The defensive line was the unquestioned strength of the New York Giants defense in 2022. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari flashed the upside to be a formidable pass rushing duo, Leonard Williams continued to be solid, and Dexter Lawrence had a breakout season.
Unfortunately, the Giants lacked depth on their defensive line, which opposing teams took advantage of when Williams or Lawrence were off the field. The Giants have more pressing needs on their roster, but Joe Schoen could look to add to the Giants’ defensive tackle depth in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton had a strong season and was surprisingly disruptive as a nose tackle. Could he help provide some much-needed depth for the Giants’ defensive line?
Prospect: Keeanu Benton (95)
Games Watched: vs. Ohio State (2022), vs. Northwestern (2022), vs. Michigan State (2020), vs. Purdue (2022)
Red Flags: Knee injury (2022)
Height: 6-foot 3 1⁄2 inches
Weight: 312 pounds
Arm length: 33 3⁄4 inches
Hand size: 9 7/8 inches
Games Played: 39
Tackles For a loss: 19.0
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 4
Games Played: 12
Tackles For a loss: 10.0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Passes Defensed: 2
Best: Size, play strength, competitive toughness, hand usage
Worst: Leverage consistency, quickness
Projection: A nose tackle with positional versatility and starting upside in the right scheme.
Benton is a big, powerful defensive tackle with surprising athleticism and production for the position.
Benton has very good size for the position at 6-foot-4, 317 pounds, and appears to have room on his frame for more muscle mass if necessary. He typically aligned as a nose tackle for Wisconsin, playing as a true 0-technique nose shaded as a 1-technique. Benton typically plays with good power, firing low off of the snap and maintaining good pad level throughout the play. He features very heavy hands and looks to win opponents’ chest plates for inside leverage. He has evident play strength and is very difficult for offensive linemen to move when he maintains his pad level. He’s even strong enough to command and control guard/center double teams.
Benton has shown improved hand usage over the course of his career at Wisconsin. He favors a heavy club-rip move to complement his bullrushes, and is able to employ both to good effect. He has improved significantly as a pass rusher, in large part due to his improved hand technique. Benton is not only able to create movement at the point of attack and push the pocket, but also attack gaps and penetrate into the backfield. He was even used as a looper on stunts and twists on occasion.
He has an impressive motor and competitive toughness. Not only is he willing to eat blocks and create opportunities for his teammates, Benton also shows impressive hustle in pursuit. He has surprising long speed for a nose tackle and is willing to pursue ball carriers down the field and through the echo of the whistle.
While Benton has good agility and long speed for a nose tackle, he’s a limited athlete overall. He isn’t truly explosive compared to more athletic defensive tackles and doesn’t win with speed. That could limit his pass rushing upside at the next level. Benton can occasionally pop up instead of firing forward at the snap, compromising his leverage and play strength. He can also allow his base to narrow, which creates issues for his balance and makes him vulnerable to strikes from the side.
Overall Grade: 7.1
Benton projects as a rotational nose tackle at the NFL level. Whether or not he is a starter would likely depend on the scheme into which he is drafted, but his technique and play strength should make him a primary interior defensive lineman early in his career.
Benton will almost certainly be looked at as a run stuffing nose tackle by teams, and will likely start his career by rotating onto the field in short yardage situations. He is a powerful player who can clog the interior of the offensive line when he plays with good leverage.
Benton has some pass rushing upside and was the first Wisconsin defensive lineman to have 10 tackles for a loss since J.J. Watt. Benton’s pass rush has improved each year and could continue to be improved with more development in his hand usage. He’ll never be confused with an athletic 3-technique, but his ability to provide some pass rush could appeal to teams that run a high rate of nickel or dime subpackages and quarters coverage.
The NFL has moved to more Cover - 4 schemes to combat explosive passing plays, which has created more opportunities for the running game league-wide. A run defending defensive tackle who is able to disrupt the backfield with pure power or technique is certainly useful. Nose tackles have seen their draft value decline in recent years as teams have transitioned to more pass-first offenses. That could cause Benton to drop in the draft and potentially make him a good value pick for a team in need of high quality depth along the defensive line.