When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton with the 49th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, they selected a player with a lot of collegiate experience. Benton started at least one game during all four years at Wisconsin, and that experience should bode well for him to become an immediate contributor at the NFL level. During a press conference after the selection, Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin praised Benton’s readiness and talked about his polish.
“You can see his game is a little more polished than maybe a young guy. So you’re gonna see his technique is gonna be a little more refined, what he sees, how he sees blocking schemes is going to be a little bit better than maybe a younger guy, and I think those things show up on tape with him,” Austin said via video posted to the team’s YouTube channel.
Outside of Larry Ogunjobi, the Steelers don’t have a ton of starter-quality depth at defensive tackle. While Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts are good depth pieces, neither could nor should be expected to play the number of reps a starter does. If Benton is polished as he looks on tape, he could come in and immediately play a solid amount of reps. While Ogunjobi will be the starter, he has injury concerns and limiting his reps could be the smart move in the long term.
Benton comes in with a solid amount of college production, and his combination of size and traits fits perfectly in Pittsburgh. Alex Kozora was all over Benton to the Steelers back in January given that he checked pretty much every box the team looks for and four months later Benton is a Steeler. Adding depth in Fehoko and Watts this offseason with the intention of drafting a longer-term solution at nose tackle was a good move from general manager Omar Khan and the front office. The plan has seemingly paid off with Benton falling into Pittsburgh’s lap at No. 49.
With Benton and cornerback Joey Porter Jr. in the fold, the Steelers have addressed two of their biggest needs on the defensive side of the ball. With offensive tackle Broderick Jones drafted on Thursday in round one, the Steelers have filled what were arguably the team’s three biggest holes with their first three picks of the draft. You can’t judge a draft until guys hit the field, but right now it feels like a home run for Khan in his first draft as general manager.