Eckert’s Examinations: 2022 College DT Pass Rush Stat Study

Continuing the series, I wanted to move to the defensive tackle position, where Pittsburgh selected Keeanu Benton at pick 49 in the second round. Today’s goal is to look at and provide stat context for the position using Sports Info Solutions (SIS). The data in this study looks at final college seasons in 2022, focusing on the players who heard their names called in the draft, 300+ pounders who will likely play on the interior (as Benton is projected to), and one player who was excluded due to SIS not tracking smaller schools. The goal is to see how Benton stacked up among his peers.

First, let’s look at pass snaps along with their total snaps to get a gauge of the players’ opportunities, and how often they were able to stay on the field for their squads last season:

Here we can see Benton was utilized at a below-average rate, despite playing in every game last season. Thanks to our own Melanie Friedlander’s entrance physical research, he missed the second half of the week six game, but showed encouraging toughness to return the next game, and is currently healthy with rookie minicamp just concluded. So, his below-average usage in 2022 is not due to unavailability overall, with the eighth rank out of the 13 qualifying players in total snaps (420), along with 217 pass snaps, which ranks 10th, an important factor as we dive deeper today.

Next, let’s look at the percentages that the players rushed on pass plays, which most at the position were in the 99th percentile, along with Sports Info Solutions positive play %, defined as the rate of pass plays with the player on the field resulted in a positive expected points added (EPA), with lower percentages being the best:

Benton was one of several players in the 99th percentile in rush percentage, which was the average for the position, ranking sixth. He was also sixth in positive percentage, landing him above the mean in both data points. So, when he was on the field on passing plays, he rushed the passer at a high rate and good things happened. Hopefully he can bring this to the Steelers, who have lacked that presence from the interior, the most direct and best place to generate pass rush, in my opinion.

Speaking of which, let’s look at essential numbers for the topic — pressure and sack percentages:

Here is where three popular names in this year’s draft separate themselves, including Benton. He ranked second in sack percentage, substantially higher than the rest of the pack, and had the third-ranked pressure percentage. He lands on a very healthy spot on the chart, well above average in both, and most encouragingly above the trendline. So, he got home on his opportunities overall, with a high sack rate in pressure situations (4.5 sacks on 22 pressures). Compare this to Jalen Carter for example. The ninth overall pick of the draft had a high number of pressures, but didn’t result in sacks comparatively (two sacks, 33 pressures). Definitely an encouraging aspect of Benton’s 2022 campaign.

To close, here is a more macro view of the players as pass rushers using points saved per rush (The total of a player’s EPA responsibility on pass plays using the Total Points system that distributes credit among all players on the field for a given play [with positive numbers being good.] Totals are scaled up to map to the average points scored or allowed on a team level, with the player’s snap count determining how much to adjust. For pass rushers, this includes accounting for sacks, blown blocks forced, turnovers, turnover returns, and other disruptions at the line of scrimmage. Values are modulated using a quality-of-competition multiplier based on each opponent’s previous year of performance.) and points above average per play (using the same Total Points system and putting a number to their value above an average level player):

In this more macro view, Benton ranks second in points saved per rush and points above average per play. Taking it all in, very encouraging results among the big men in the middle in the 2023 draft. Benton showcased great pass-rush skill for his size, which is intriguing and will hopefully carry over to Pittsburgh. The only aspect of the study today that he was below average in was opportunity, but admirably played through injury and did what the team asked of him, while providing high quality when on the field. Knock on wood, he will complete a three-headed monster on the defensive line, and oh yeah, the Steelers’ edge rushers are pretty good too. I sure wouldn’t want to be opposing quarterbacks who play against Pittsburgh.

Throughout the rest of the offseason, I will dive deeper into the data as we continue to learn about the newest Pittsburgh Steelers. How do you think Keeanu Benton will fare his rookie year? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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