Eckert’s Examinations: 2022 College DT Run Defense Stat Study

Continuing the series, I wanted to look at defensive tackles, where Pittsburgh selected Keeanu Benton at pick 49 in the second round. Today’s goal is to look at and provide run defense stat context for the position using Sports Info Solutions (SIS). The data in this study looks at their final college season in 2022, focusing on the players who heard their names called in the draft, 300+ pounders that will likely play on the interior (as Benton is projected to). One player was excluded due to SIS not tracking smaller schools. The goal is to see how Benton stacked up among his peers, similar to my recent look at him as a pass rusher, where he fared very well.

First, let’s look at rush 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 see Benton was below the mean in total snaps (420), utilized at a below-average rate despite playing every game last season. He did land just above average among the group in rush snaps though (203), highlighting more of his opportunities coming in these situations. He showed toughness to play through an injury that I pointed out in the last article, very necessary and encouraging availability as he begins his NFL journey, ranking eighth in total snaps and seventh in rush snaps. Important context as we dive deeper today.

Next, let’s look at a very important aspect of being a quality run defender, tackling. The chart below looks at the players’ tackles per game and average tackle depth, with the latter suggesting quality play up front and attacking the line of scrimmage:

Impressively, Benton had the second rank of this group in average tackle depth (-0.1) and landed just above average in tackles per game (3.1) which ranked sixth, making him one of only two players to land above the mean in both. The quality of his play was definitely there, providing solid results as a tackler, though on less opportunity comparatively.

This next view attempts to weigh positive and negative plays, using broken and missed tackle rates (negative plays) along with Sports Info Solutions’s positive play % which is the rate of run plays with the player on the field that resulted in a positive expected points added (EPA), with lower percentages being the best:

Once again, Benton fared extremely well as a run defender, with the second-ranked positive percentage (32%) along with a solid 5.1 broken/missed tackle rate that was third best amongst the group. Very steady play, limiting negative plays comparatively and providing a substantial impact on the interior of the defensive line that will hopefully carry over to Pittsburgh, a presence they have been missing.

To close, here is a more total view of the players in the run game using points saved per play (The total of a player’s EPA responsibility on run 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 run defense, which includes accounting for defenders in the box, blown blocks forced, broken tackles, turnovers, and turnover returns.) and points above average per play (using the same Total Points system and putting a number to their value above an average level player):

Here we see Benton’s total value in the run game was very strong, particularly in points above an average-level player, where he topped the ranks. He also ranked second in points saved per play, topped only by Jalen Carter’s very impressive result. Very encouraging marks from Benton as a run defender in 2022, one of the best among the big men in the middle from the 2023 draft. The only aspect of today’s study that he was below average in was total snaps, but he played through injury showing toughness and did what the team asked of him while providing high quality play on the field. Pairing this with his equally strong results as a pass rusher in his final year at Wisconsin, this well-roundedness has me extremely excited, and hopefully he will carry this level of play over to the black and gold. Knock on wood, he can man the middle as the missing ingredient to a hopefully stronger 2023 defensive line.

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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