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Can This be Keeanu Benton’s Breakout Season?

Pro Football Focus believes that Keeanu Benton is set for a potential breakout campaign in 2024 after a strong rookie season.

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Pittsburgh Steelers DT Keeanu Benton
Pittsburgh Steelers DT Keeanu Benton against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dec. 23, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers got all they wanted from their 2023 NFL Draft class and then some. With solid showings from most players up and down the class, it looks like the group will be one that will pay forward for the future of the franchise. But one of the guys at the center of that is Keeanu Benton.

Benton only had one sack on the season, but his tape jumps off the page. He consistently terrorized teams up front and became a better run defender as the season progressed. Head Coach Mike Tomlin saw Benton grow leaps and bounds and believes the team has something.

“It’s interesting, I just had an exit interview with him,” Tomlin said. “I’m really excited about the prospects of his future. He’s really talented. I think he’s capable of being dominant sooner rather than later. And so, the question is how quickly can we make that happen and what are our roles in doing so. And so, we just had a real good conversation about what that looks like foundationally and how do we build.”

Steelers NT Keeanu Benton

Steelers NT Keeanu Benton comes out of the tunnel before the team’s game against the New England Patriots, Dec. 7, 2023 – Ed Thompson./ Steelers Now

Benton will have to work to diversify his moves and take the next step, but he keeps taking leaps at nose tackle, and whenever he got the chance to play out at 3-technique, Benton looked as natural as ever. But he did play nearly as much as Cam Heyward or Larry Ogunjobi, but heading into his second season, it seems that will change. And Pro Football Focus sees him as the breakout candidate for Pittsburgh.

“The former Badger ranked fourth on the Steelers with 24 pressures despite playing only 516 snaps. There were several moments when Benton looked flat-out unblockable, but the Steelers didn’t use him as much as anticipated as a rookie,” PFF writes. “With Cameron Heyward experiencing a down 2023 and uncertainty with Larry Ogunjobi’s production, it feels as though Benton should easily exceed his previous snap count and be disruptive on the interior.”

Cam Heyward admitted he never gave him enough credit for doing what he had done as a rookie. It’s not hard to see. Most guys do not play as a rookie as much as Benton has and have this much success. But Benton is only getting better. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin gave Keeanu Benton plenty of props for his growth, too.

“A lot of potential, a lot of growth, and I love what I see from the young guy. He just continues to get better. I can’t say enough about him. I’m glad we got him, and I think he’s going to be a real force in that middle four for a while,” Austin said.

So far, he is their healthiest and most consistent defensive tackle. For a second-round pick, that is a massive hit. Now, he just needs to take the next step from being good to dominant, as it lays the foundation for that leap in 2024. There is no question on who the favorite for a breakout player on the Steelers should be in 2024. All of the signs point to Benton becoming a potential monster along the defensive line in his second season.

“I don’t give that kid enough credit,” Heyward said. “He’s come on big for us. Losing Montravius, myself… We needed guys to step up. I thought he did an amazing job. He plays with good leverage, good hands, gets off blocks, and gets after the qb too. I love the way he runs after the ball. That’s one thing that I was taught here when I first got here, and he’s emulating that every single time.”

Getting praise like that is not new for Benton and should not stop coming. He will likely see that productivity increase next year when he gets stronger and the game slows down even more. Somehow, as a rookie, he became the team ‘s most consistent defensive lineman. For a second-round pick, that is a massive hit.

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