For the next installment of our 2023 NFL Scouting Combine positional review, we’re featuring the big guys up front on defense — defensive tackles. If you missed any of the previous installments, you can look back by following the linked position groups immediately below:
The Buffalo Bills roll into the 2023 season with six defensive tackles under contract. Three players were signed to reserve/futures contracts — Eli Ankou, Cortez Broughton, and Kingsley Jonathan. Currently, the defensive tackles we can expect to be regular contributors in 2023 are Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, and Tim Settle. All three of these players have contracts set to expire at the conclusion of the 2023 season.
Oliver will be an interesting player to watch over the next year. The Bills picked him ninth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft and recently picked up his fifth-year option, locking him up through the 2023 season. One Bills Drive will have a big decision to make on whether or not to re-sign him next spring. Jones proved to be a worthy free-agent signing last offseason. He was a consistent “1-technique” for Buffalo’s defense, and he was sorely missed (while sidelined with an injury) in the Bills’ playoff matchup versus the Cincinnati Bengals. I would assume Buffalo is content with trotting out Oliver and Jones as their defensive tackle starters in 2023. Settle was signed to be a rotational piece and he served that purpose well enough, but I expect to see more production out of him. The Bills could potentially save $2.7 million in cap space if they decided to cut Settle. Buffalo did sign Jordan Phillips to a one-year deal last offseason, but he had an injury-riddled season that left a lot to be desired. He technically has a void year in his contract for 2023. If the Bills wanted to bring him back for another year, that certainly could be an option.
Regardless, Buffalo needs to add some depth and competition to the interior of their defensive line. The Bills can always turn to free agency to help fill out this group, but with no one signed past 2023, they should be looking to add some youth. Let’s review some of the defensive tackles who I think the Buffalo Bills should consider in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Day 1 Consideration
Bryan Bresee, DT (Clemson)
Standing at 6’5” and weighing 298 pounds, Bresee is a mountain of a man. Don’t let his size fool you though, he’s still quite athletic. Running a 4.86 40-yard dash is nothing short of amazing for a man flirting with 300 pounds. He was the nation's top high school recruit in 2020. He started contributing for Clemson right away but missed significant time after tearing his ACL in 2021.
With Bresee missing some time during college, his production doesn’t stand out. But he has numerous traits take that still make him a top-tier talent in this draft. His frame and stature provide him with elite power that translates well when fighting in the trenches. Even being a taller defender he still maintains adequate leverage that allows him to take on double teams in the run game. He has the versatility to operate in the 1-technique or 3-technique in Buffalo’s 4-3 defense, something the Bills covet. He possesses surprising agility for his size, which gives him upside as an interior pass rusher. But he needs to further develop his technique to be successful in the NFL.
The main concerns for Bresee are his lack of major production in college and his injury history. The ACL tear in 2021 and shoulder surgery in 2022 are concerning, but if the Bills are comfortable with his recovery from these injuries, he’d provide them with massive upside. Buffalo tends to crave physical specimens in the draft, and Bresee certainly fits that bill (pun intended).
Calijah Kancey, DT (Pittsburgh)
At 6’1” and 281 pounds, Kancey has an eerily similar build to Ed Oliver (6’1”, 287 pounds). I’d say the two also have similar styles of play. Kancey ran a 4.67 40-yard dash at the combine (fastest time for a DT since 2003) while Oliver ran a reported 4.73 40-yard dash at his pro day in 2019. The Bills might be wary of drafting a DT prospect with similar traits to someone already on their roster, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be interested. Oliver is in the last year of his deal and, as mentioned above, the Bills have yet to re-sign him to a long-term extension. They could make a decision to draft Kancey to ensure they have an explosive inside defender in the event Oliver leaves next offseason. Even if Oliver stays, having two explosive interior linemen isn’t a bad thing.
Kancey has experience at both the 1-tech and 3-tech, but he’s best suited in the 3-tech role due to being undersized for the position. He had solid production at the college level (14.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss as a full-time starter) and consistently showed his burst and lower body strength on film. Kancey excels as an interior pass rusher and shows a killer instinct when closing in on the quarterback. In the run game, he has the ability to beat his opponents to the punch and forces the issue in the backfield. However, he really is only a 1-gap defender and can get pushed around if a larger offensive lineman gets their hands on him. The Bills fell in love with a player like this before, so much so that they drafted Oliver at pick nine in the 2019 draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were interested in Kancey at pick 27 in this year’s draft.
Pitt DT Calijah Kancey officially ran a 4.67— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) March 2, 2023
That's the fastest time at the Combine for a DT since 2003 pic.twitter.com/m9xr575XyV
DT Calijah Kancey (6' 0", 280 lbs) was Pittsburgh's first unanimous All American since Aaron Donald (6' 0", 285 lbs).— The GOAT House (@GoatHouseNFL) January 28, 2023
Kancey had 14 sacks in his final two seasons at Pitt. Donald had 16.5.
Explosive interior pass rusher. pic.twitter.com/XW8KmrlQQF
Day 2 Considerations
Keeanu Benton, DT (Wisconsin)
If the Bills do retain Ed Oliver’s services, he tends to be a more effective player with a running mate next to him able to eat up double teams. DaQuan Jones did a nice job in this run-stuffer/block-eater type of role in 2022. Buffalo only has Jones under contract through 2023, so all options should be on the table for the Bills to make a move at the 1-technique or “nose tackle” position. An option on that proverbial table is Keeanu Benton — he’s 6’4” and 309 pounds, so it would have to be a very large table.
Benton may be the best run-stuffing DT in this draft class. He’s a force to be reckoned with on the inside and often makes his presence felt. He lacks elite quickness or burst at the position, and he doesn’t offer much in terms of an explosive pass rush. Benton is a brute force in the middle and wins often with his heavy punch and favorable length. His main strengths lie in being a space-eater and taking on multiple blockers to free up his teammates — something very important for good linebacker play.
While he's far from a finished product, there's much to be desired when watching Wisconsin IDL Keanu Benton. Watch him here defeat a reach block by using his outside hand in the armpit of the defender before fighting him off with his inside hand to get square and meet the RB. pic.twitter.com/zdleyXQ0aV— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 6, 2023
Gervon Dexter Sr., DT (Florida)
Gervon Dexter is about as big as they come at 6’6” and 310 pounds. He’s a prototypical 2-gap defender who can eat up space and blockers. He has heavy hands and packs a punch with his first move. His quickness and explosion aren’t top tier, but he can get the job done with his size. He has the capability to be a three-down defender, but is likely suited to be a run-stuffing nose tackle who helps out his linebacker core. Dexter has shown some flashes of being able to rush the QB, but his pass-rush game will need refining if he wants to be a consistent threat in the NFL. He has the ability to anchor himself and make a pile to clog up plays inside in the run game. Dexter’s size and athletic profile make him an intriguing mid-round option for the Bills to develop.
Day 3 Considerations
Brodric Martin, DT (Western Kentucky)
I’m cheating a little bit here because he technically wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, and I can’t figure out why. A massive human at 6’5” and more than 330 pounds, he is the prototypical nose guard and run-stuffer of the NFL. Martin sheds blocks well and shows a surprising quickness off the snap of the ball. He is a one-dimensional pass rusher —his go-to move is a bull rush, which NFL linemen will catch on to quickly. He has above-average hand placement and uses his upper body strength to control blockers when he locks them out. Sometimes Martin can play a bit too upright, which gets him into trouble when he tries to maintain his leverage when getting double-teamed. Overall, he’s a late-round prospect from a non-Power Five school who has the upside to develop his skills into an above-average nose tackle as his ceiling. Buffalo should consider Martin as a late-round option to be an important rotational piece to their defensive line. That way, when DaQuan Jones comes off the field, they aren’t missing that “block-eating” DT when they’re rotating linemen.
The Bills have some key decisions to make about what to do in the long term at defensive tackle. They have a solid core of players currently, but it would be nice to see an influx of young talent to provide depth and competition. One Bills Drive will probably try to bring in someone via free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were interested in shoring up the middle of their defense by drafting a promising young talent through the draft. Stay tuned, next up we review the defensive ends from the combine! Will the Bills invest another premium asset at the DE position? My thoughts on that and more, next time!