PITTSBURGH — The Steelers draft brass knew they needed some help up front on the defensive line, and they got it by taking Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton at 49th overall.
Anyone that had paid attention to the Steelers throughout this process knew this team would at least be very interested in Benton if he made it to No. 49 overall. However, the reason why that is so obvious is that the Steelers and Benton are a perfect mesh with one another in terms of stylistic comparisons.
What do the Steelers draft brass look for up front? Guys with great frames, high-level athleticism, and good character. You can check off all the boxes for Benton in that regard. He passes that test with flying colors and then some. However, the other key here is that Benton is a perfect projection. Coming from Wisconsin’s odd-man front, the Steelers essentially saw Benton play in their own defense. They can project him that easily as a result.
However, he is far from a polished player. Benton has plenty of room to grow as a pass rusher and does not fully have the repertoire to be an advanced one, but has all the tools to be a great pass rusher. Still, with his athleticism and run-stopping ability, he is already a three-down player. With inconsistent pad level and some questionable recognition skills, he will have a learning curve despite truly being a three-down, experienced player.
Benton’s a nose tackle that did primarily focus on stopping the run, but he terrorized opponents the moment he got to pin his ears back and go after the quarterback. A guy with true nose tackle potential, Benton sports a stout frame that is slightly undersized, but he makes up for it with fantastic length and burst. The cool thing about Benton is that in sub packages, he can easily slide out to 3-technique. Where does that leave him as a player?
He’s a versatile guy who can play on three-downs. That means a lot for most teams because those types of nose tackles are rare. In fact, maybe I’m just outright wrong in calling him a nose tackle. Sure, he may start out there, but he might be at his best all the way out as a 4i, or especially, a 3-technique.
So, when you are thinking about what Benton brings, just know he will have upside and the transition should be easier because of the schematic similarities. But make no mistake, this will take time and Benton will be up and down in a rotational role in his first year. It’s solid value and focuses on the trenches once again.