The NFL does not exist on offense alone, with the ability to stop teams from scoring almost as highly prized as players who can points on the board. There has been no shortage of stud defensive players taken early in recent drafts with the likes of Sauce Gardner and Aidan Hutchinson turning heads as rookies after being taken inside the top ten in 2022.
FanDuel Sportsbook has odds on which defensive player will be the first to hear his name called in the 2023 NFL Draft. Here, we look at five of the leading candidates, and I present my pick as to who will be the first guy charged with stopping offenses to hug Roger Goodell this April.
Jalen Carter, Gerorgia (-105)
Ohio State is the place that sends stud wide receivers into the NFL. Georgia, on the other hand, has developed a reputation for sending top-tier defensive talent into the pros. Jalen Carter is the latest cab off this particular rank. The defensive tackle is heading into the draft after logging 18.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks for the Bulldogs during his collegiate career. Pro Football Focus graded Carter as the third-best player in college football in 2022.
Carter is an absolute beast, but he may have to wait his turn to be drafted in 2023 -- especially if the Chicago Bears keep the first overall pick and choose to go defense with their selection. A defensive tackle has only been taken first overall twice in NFL Draft history, and Dan Wilkinson was the last in 1994. I'm certain Carter won't have too long to wait, though.
Will Anderson, Alabama (+125)
Defensive ends have enjoyed a lot more success at going very early than their interior counterparts, and this historical trend could benefit Will Anderson of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Anderson is the all-time sack leader for the Crimson Tide and ends his college career with 34.5 sacks to go with 58.5 TFLs. He wasn't too far behind Carter in the eyes of PFF, coming in as the eighth-best college player last season.
Anderson has a long and dominant college career behind him, and with pass rushers continuing to be an important part of the modern NFL, it would not be a shock to see him go off the board before every other defensive player in 2023.
Myles Murphy, Clemson (+2000)
Clemson linebackers have enjoyed something of a mixed time of it in the NFL in recent years. Since 2015, Stephone Anthony and Isaiah Simmons have gone in the first round of the draft, but neither established themselves as elite at their position. Vic Beasley did post one All-Pro season in which he led the NFL in sacks. This is the history Myles Murphy has to battle in 2023.
Murphy has been fairly productive for the Tigers with 18.5 career sacks and 36.0 TFLs. He boasts impressive speed, which NFL coaches since the dawn of time will tell you that you just can't coach. Still, he projects to be a better run defender than pass rusher at present, and given the modern offenses desire to emphasize the pass, he would be a gamble to go before a more established quarterback crusher like Anderson.
Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (+5000)
Pass rushers and cornerbacks are seen as vital in stopping modern passing offenses, so perhaps it's time for a cornerback to go off the board before all other defenders. If that's the way the 2023 draft goes then Christian Gonzalez could lead the way for his position. He spent his first two college seasons with Colorado, for whom he logged ten pass breakups but failed to log a single interception. He transferred to Oregon in 2022 and logged another seven PBUs but also got his hands on four picks.
Gonzalez has an excellent chance of being the first cornerback taken in the draft, but he, like many of his ilk before him, will probably have to wait to hear his name called after a defensive end or two have found new homes
Joey Porter Jr, Penn State (+10000)
Another candidate, if a cornerback is to go as the first defensive player in 2023, is Joey Porter Jr.
Porter is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter, and by all accounts, he plays with his dad's infamous high motor. He had 20 PBUs for the Penn State Nittany Lions during his college career, and 11 came in the 2022 season. Porter only has a single interception to his name, which is the same number that his dad logged for Colorado State back in 1998.
Porter, like Gonzalez, should certainly be expecting to hear his name called in the first round come April. However, it would be something of a shock if either were taken before the big two, Carter and Anderson.
Jalen Carter has earned a reputation as the best player on the best defense in college football in each of the last two seasons, including after a 2021 season that saw five Bulldogs go in the first round.
But, I just have a feeling that Anderson, with slightly more pass-rush juice, will be the first defensive player taken in 2023. I'm not saying this solely because history tells us defensive tackles generally go after defensive ends. In my opinion, a beast is a beast is a beast.
Getting after the quarterback is, and will continue to be, the most effective way of halting an NFL offense, and Anderson just seems to be able to offer more in that regard than his rivals.
Anderson at his price is my pick.