Defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, a second-round pick, will begin his Pittsburgh Steelers career at nose tackle. That may bring visions of old-school run stuffing players not focused on getting after the quarterback but in 2023, guys like Benton have to offer more. Though not the first thing you think about regarding his game, the Wisconsin product knows he can impact the pass and run game in the NFL.
Speaking to reporters after his first practice Friday, Benton said he is fine with letting the football world sleep on his pass-rush ability.
“I feel like it is,” he said via Steelers.com when asked if his pass rushing is overlooked. “But keep letting it be underrated. I’m gonna let my stats talk.”
So what do the stats say? At Wisconsin, he recorded nine sacks and finished his career on a high note with 4.5 this past season. On tape, Benton shows quick hands and surprising lower-half bend to corner and finish plays. While he’s unlikely to ever be a prolific pass rusher, he’s capable of recording a few sacks and several more pressures per season.
Having that well-rounded ability is key to being a three-down player. Benton may not be a core part of the Steelers’ sub-packages but he could work as a rotational rusher seeing a handful of pass down snaps per game. And given nickel is still the most common defensive package against 11 personnel teams, the league’s base offense, Benton being able to play in sub-packages will be critical to maximizing his value and return the team’s investment on him, the 49th overall selection of the draft.
Benton told reporters he’s yet to meet Cam Heyward, who will arrive for OTAs two weeks from now. Once the rest of the roster arrives, Benton can learn from Heyward, one of football’s best, and Larry Ogunjobi, who was praised for his run defense coming out of Charlotte but developed into a pass rusher, too. Ogunjobi only had 5.5 sacks over his final two years in Charlotte but has regularly topped that number in single seasons throughout his career.