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Steelers Sophomore Season Outlook: Keeanu Benton

Following a very promising rookie season, defensive tackle Keeanu Benton will look to build on that success in his second season.
Keanu Benton

The Pittsburgh Steelers strong class of 2023 rookies enters their second NFL season in 2024. Their first two picks, Broderick Jones and Joey Porter Jr., were starters and key contributors as rookies. While Jones had his ups and downs, Porter quickly established himself as the Steelers best cornerback and was among the NFL’s best in coverage. Keeanu Benton, the Steelers third selection of last year’s draft, has fallen under the radar. Benton had a very productive rookie season and will look to build on that performance in 2024.

Keeanu Benton Sophomore Season Outlook

Rookie Season Recap

As a rookie, Benton was very effective in a somewhat-limited role. The Steelers always bring their rookies on slowly, but it was a surprise that Benton didn’t get more playing time last year. He played just 43% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps, compared to 68% for Larry Ogunjobi and 48% for Montravius Adams, both of whom Benton was better than. While it made sense for Benton to be slowly introduced to the rotation early in the season, it was disappointing to not see his snap count significantly increase when he showed he was ready for an expanded role.

Despite the lower-than-deserved snap count, Benton was impressively productive as a rookie. He totaled 36 tackles, eight quarterback hits, a sack, and two forced fumbles. While he was fine against the run, Benton’s best work came as a pass rusher. Despite the lack of stats, he consistently won his pass rush matchups. His combination of strength and agility proved challenging for opposing offensive linemen to deal with. Benton also showcased a high football IQ and very high motor as a rookie. He was quick to recognize screens and was constantly getting downfield, making tackles from behind while never giving up on a play.

Setting Second Season Expectations

The first expectation for Keeanu Benton in 2024 is simply for him to get more playing time. It is hard to see that not being the case given his impressive rookie campaign. Although he played injured last year and enters this season healthy, Cameron Heyward could see a slight reduction in snaps due to his age. Ogunjobi had his moments in 2023 but wasn’t as consistent as the Steelers would have liked of a player with his contract. And there is not much depth behind Heyward, Ogunjobi, and Benton. Adams is a good run stopper but doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. All of these factors point to Benton spending much more time on the field in his second season.

When he finds himself on the field more, the expectation is for Benton to develop into a defensive tackle capable of playing in any package or situation. As a rookie, he was definitely better as a pass rusher than a run stopper. That’s not to say he was weak against the run, though. He will just need to keep showing improvement in that regard. What he lacks in raw size he is more than capable of making up for with strength and quickness. Due to playing on a defensive front featuring T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, Benton will find himself in plenty of one-on-one matchups. He consistently won those matchups in pass rush situations as a rookie.

All the Steelers are looking for from Keeanu Benton in 2024 is continue his trajectory of development while expanding his role.

Main Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


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