2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Study: Ranking Top Defensive Line Prospect’s Run Defense

As the 2023 NFL Draft inches close, it is anyone’s best guess who the Pittsburgh Steelers will select at 17, 32, and onward. Unlike the past two drafts, there is no safe prediction for what position the team will target in the first round, as the selections of a quarterback in 2022 and a running back in 2021 were all but unexpected. Currently, the most plausible positions for the team to select in the first round are cornerback, defensive lineman, offensive lineman, or inside linebacker.

The need at defensive line is arguably an underrated one. Indeed, the team has no clear starter next to 33-year-old Cameron Heyward as Larry Ogunjobi and Chris Wormley are set to be free agents and DeMarvin Leal, Montravius Adams, and others are largely unproven. As such, if the team does not sign a lock-in starter in free agency, it is not unlikely that they use one of their first two picks to bolster the trenches in 2023 and onward after Heyward retires.

This article will delve into Pro Football Focus premium stats data on the run-defense of six prospects that may be available for the team to select at 17 or 32. Specifically, the table below will include total run-defense snaps, PFF grade, missed tackle percentage, and stop percentage on the prospects. This article does not provide a comprehensive look on these prospects, and is only meant to provide context on their play. To get an in-depth look on these prospects, be sure to also check out the prospects’ draft profiles from the site by clicking on the links below.

Player Team Run-Defense Snaps PFF Grade Missed Tackle % Stop %
Siaki Ika BAYLOR 198 69 25% 6.6%
Gervon Dexter Sr. FLORIDA 335 70 7% 7.7%
Bryan Bresee CLEMSON 126 63 21% 4.8%
Mazi Smith MICHIGAN 238 81 4.5% 11.7%
Calijah Kancey PITTSBURGH 179 80 9.1% 7.4%
Keeanu Benton WISCONSIN 201 70 7.3% 10.5%

For context, run stop percentage refers to the percentage of plays where a defensive lineman creates a loss in yardage for the opposing offense, while the PFF grade is a comprehensive play-by-play grade on run snaps.

At face value, Michigan’s Mazi Smith has the best all-around numbers considering the entirety of the data. He has the best grade, lowest missed tackle percentage, and highest stop percentage. At 6’3” and 337 pounds, Smith is a run-stopping machine that ranked first place on the Athletic’s “College Football Freaks” list. 

Another name that stands out is Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey. A redshirt junior, he is a reasonable target for Pittsburgh at 32. Though he has the second-lowest snap count at 179, his is grade ranked as a close second to Smith’s, and his stop percentage is an impressive 7.4% while his missed tackle percentage is not alarmingly high. However, Kancey might be a bit undersized at 6 feet. Kancey was recently seen with Steelers’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Steelers are certainly not afraid to take players from Pitt.

For Baylor’s Siaka Ika, the 25% missed tackle rate is alarming at face value. In his 2021 junior season, that number was 15%, which is certainly better but would still rank close to last on his list. His grade is also below average at 69, and his stop percentage ranks second-to-last on the list. Ika has been mocked to Pittsburgh several times and is a plausible target for them at 17 or 32.

Missed tackles are also an issue for Clemson’s Bryan Bresee, who is often projected to go earlier than 17. While Bresee is a top-tier raw athelete, he has a bit of technical improving to do, which these numbers back up. That said, he does have the smallest sample size of snaps, and the grades certainly don’t paint the full picture on his run defense.

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