Grading each pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 draft class
By Cory Rogers
Round 2 – Pick 49 – Keeanu Benton, DT, Wisconsin
I like the player, but I'll admit that I wasn't sure if I liked the pick at number 49 when there were several good slot defenders to choose from here. However, one thing I learned in watching this draft is to trust the "Khan Artist" (Omar Khan).
After all, Pittsburgh has been in search of defensive line help for the past couple of years due to a lack of elite production, injuries, and age. And Benton gives the Steelers an injection of youth and versatility. He’s by far the best defensive line prospect they've drafted since third-round selection Javon Hargrave in 2016.
Benton (6-4, 309) is three inches taller than Hargrave though and also has longer arms (33 7/8 inches compared to Hargrave's 32 inches). Benton is also one of the more athletic defensive tackles in this year's draft class, finishing in the top five in the vertical jump (29.5), broad jump (9'3"), 3-cone drill (7.34), 20-yard shuttle (4.65) and bench press (25) at the combine. The only other defensive tackle who can claim that is former Oklahoma standout Jalen Redmond.
Benton was the second-ranked defensive tackle in the draft by NFLDraftBuzz.com, ranking behind only eventual first-round draft pick Bryan Bresee of Clemson. A former wrestler, Benton is strong at the point of attack and had his best season on the gridiron in 2022. Already a proven run defender, he improved as a pass rusher as a senior, posting 11 quarterback hits and a career-high six sacks.
According to PFF, Benton spent the last three seasons at Wisconsin lining up half the time in the A Gap and half the time in the B Gap. He will likely begin his rookie season at nose tackle for the Steelers, battling incumbent starter Montravius Adams as well as newcomers Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts for playing time.
But Benton's versatility allows him to move around the defensive front if needed. If he does so, the Steelers may be able to move a player like DeMarvin Leal, last year's third-round draft choice, to a backup outside linebacker role as early as this season.