Months ago, Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton told me at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, that the Pittsburgh Steelers had interest in him, and that Mike Tomlin specifically told him in an interview that they had Benton on their radar. Nearly three months later, Benton is officially a Pittsburgh Steeler as he was selected at 49th overall in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
DC Teryl Austin took the podium in Pittsburgh to answer questions about the selection of Benton by Pittsburgh. Austin was asked about Benton’s lack of sack production at Wisconsin and what skills convinced the Steelers that Benton has that upside as a pass rusher at the next level.
“I think when you watch a guy that’s explosive,” Austin said in a press conference which aired live on the team’s YouTube channel. “He’s heavy-handed. He gets extension on guys. I think when you see those things and you see that he can roll his hips. I think Coach Dunbar and those guys do a great job in terms of teaching guys rush plans and how to use their strengths to become a better rusher. And I think he has some of the baseline abilities. So, that’s what we see, and we’re counting on him to be a run stopper but getting some bonus out of him as a pass rusher.”
Austin said Benton will start his NFL career at nose tackle since Pittsburgh has two capable starters at its base defensive ends with Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. Benton played NT at Wisconsin but also played up-and-down the LOS.
While a stout run defender, Benton has flashed as a pass rusher given his size at just under 6’4 and just over 300 pounds with 33+-inch arms. Benton had nine sacks in his four years at Wisconsin, including 4.5 in 2022. That is respectable production for an interior defensive lineman, but he has the skill set to bend and ability to turn the corner as a pass rusher. He also flashes impressive hand usage, using a swim move as well as other combo sets of moves to defeat blocks in pursuit of the QB.
Benton may never reach the career sack production of a Heyward or former Steelers DL Javon Hargrave, but he has the athleticism and the tools you look for in a three-down interior defensive lineman. Benton should compete for snaps as the team’s NT alongside Ogunjobi and Heyward while mixing in on sub packages his first year in the league. Bringing that run defense skill set to the Steelers’ defensive line, he can continue to develop as a pass rusher and hopefully take the leap to full-time starter in Pittsburgh in the near future.