When the Pittsburgh Steelers made Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton a second-round pick at No. 49 overall last Friday during the 2023 NFL Draft, the Steelers addressed a key need at the nose tackle position while adding youth and significant upside to an aging defensive line room featuring Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi as starters.
It wasn’t all that surprising to see the Steelers select Benton, as the interest was pretty clear dating back to the Senior Bowl, when Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin reportedly told Benton himself that he was on the Steelers’ radar.
Two months later, he’s in the Black and Gold and is drawing high praise from NFL Draft analysts overall.
CBS Sports’ Emory Hunt was the latest to applaud the Benton/Steelers pairing, calling the Wisconsin product the “hidden gem” of the Steelers’ draft class for a piece on CBSSports.com Tuesday morning.
“Keeanu Benton as a nose tackle is a phenomenal player. He had offensive linemen looking like cows on skates at the Senior Bowl,” Hunt writes regarding Benton and his fit in Pittsburgh. “Benton makes them more physical up front, especially in the run game.”
That is quite the description from Hunt regarding Benton’s time at the Senior Bowl. Now I can’t stop picturing cows on skates. Thanks, Emory.
Anyway, that certainly checks out with Benton, who brings an intriguing package of strength and athleticism to the position for the Steelers. As defensive coordinator Teryl Austin stated following the selection of Benton, the Wisconsin product is much more polished as a run defender than a pass rusher, and that shows up on tape.
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.
How well he develops as a pass rusher will be key for Benton to see more snaps than just when the Steelers are in their base defense with him at the nose tackle. With his size, traits and overall testing numbers, there’s no reason Benton shouldn’t be able to take that next step as a pass rusher and really develop an all-around game on the interior.
If he does, look out. Then he’ll really be that hidden gem that went much later than he probably should have.