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Steelers Saw Keeanu Benton’s Full Potential More At Senior Bowl Than At Wisconsin

While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2023 NFL Draft class has garnered quite a bit of praise, their second-round selection of Keeanu Benton hasn’t exactly been viewed as their most attractive move. Not because there was anything wrong or ill-advised about it, but more so because most seem to view it as a business-as-usual move, an unflashy player taken largely where he was expected to go.

The Steelers see the potential for more in him, though, according to assistant general manager Andy Weidl, and it was really during the week of the Senior Bowl when they truly got a glimpse of that. “I think what [Wisconsin] asked him to do in that defense, he did it”, Weidl said. But there is more meat on that bone, more that can be asked.

“Then we saw him at the Senior Bowl, and we saw the pass rush ability. Him being able to go from the B gap to the A gap and win an edge and get across the face. We think that he has upside as a rusher”, he added. “If you need him to win as a rusher, he would. You saw snapshots of it, and we saw it at the Senior Bowl”.

Benton feels the same way, and believes that the Steelers and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar can be the key to helping him unlock his full potential as a complete lineman, including improving his game as a disruptive pass rusher.

Taken 49th overall in the second round, Benton marks the highest draft pick for the defensive line the Steelers have made since Stephon Tuitt in 2014, who was 46th overall. If they can get half the player Tuitt was—with twice the luck on the health front—they will have struck it big.

But even with talk about upside for him to round out his game, at the heart of things he’ll be expected to occupy the middle of that defense and clog things up and make the lives of the inside linebackers easier when he’s not penetrating and winning one-on-one for himself.

“We saw him through the season, saw him perform at nose tackle and the ability to win an edge”, Weidl said in characterizing his new lineman. “The ability to make negative plays, the ability to strike, unlock his hips. He is a powerful guy. He could be a 318, 320-pound guy. He has good length. He has the wrestling background. He is a guy that’s comfortable being uncomfortable due to the conditioning that’s instilled in him”.

Many viewed the infusion of high-end, young talent into the defensive line room as a key need this offseason. The Steelers managed to do that with Benton, aided by the fact that they had an extra second-round pick this year thanks to the Chase Claypool trade, which yielded them cornerback Joey Porter Jr.

Those two defenders have the potential to make an immediate impact as rookie starters in 2023, and for many years to come. It would certainly mark an excellent start to this new era in the front office and scouting department if that is how their legacy is to begin.

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