Realistic best and worst case scenarios for the Steelers rookies

Georgia tight end Darnell Washington (0)
Georgia tight end Darnell Washington (0) / Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Steelers best/worst case scenario for Keeanu Benton

Best case scenario

Keeanu Benton enters the Steelers training camp with the best position to initially succeed. Long-term, I expect other names from this class to surpass him in terms of talent, but Benton is a pro-ready defensive lineman from a similar system to what Pittsburgh runs.

He looks legit early on and easily beats out the other nose tackle options for the starting spot. No, a traditional nose tackle isn’t going to play the majority of snaps, but it gives Benton a way to get snaps early.

He does just that, and for the first half of the season, he becomes the plug in the middle of this defense that has been missing for so long. His stats aren’t gaudy, but his impact is felt. He constantly takes on double teams and uses his power to disrupt run plays. He only lands half a sack, but he does enough to have his game noticed.

With his progress and talent obvious, he begins earning some snaps in nickel defense, and more specifically when the Steelers run that formation on early downs. He continues to impress as a run defender, but his ability to slip around blockers is further on display as he begins to get more quarterback pressures.

He finishes the season playing roughly 50 percent of the defensive snaps and amasses three sacks. While not a force of nature, his ability as a run defender is evident early on and he grows as a pass rusher. He firmly entrenches himself as a capable starter moving forward as both a nose tackle and a defensive end.

Worst case scenario

I’m fairly confident that Benton will have the earliest role out of this group. There aren’t many great nose tackle options on this roster, and it is a position that he has a lot of experience with. That said, Benton needs to show that he can be more than just a two-down player.

He fails to do that early on, as he is only playing about 30 percent of the defensive snaps and only on the field as a base nose tackle. He still pops on tape given his ability to stop the run, but he offers the team next to nothing as a pass rusher.

That doesn’t improve as the season goes on, and he proves that his floor, while high, also limits his ceiling. He fails to log a sack and becomes more of a presence elsewhere along the line. He isn’t a bad player nor a bad fit, but that versatility and ability to develop as a pass rusher never show up during his rookie season.