Buffalo Bills Scouting Report: DT Keeanu Benton
With less than a week until the NFL Draft, things are starting to ramp up for teams like the Buffalo Bills. Just a couple of weeks ago, a lot of fans were thinking that middle linebacker and wide receiver were the two most important positions for the Bills to address. But as of late, defensive tackle is starting to climb everyone’s boards.
DL Early Again?
There are three main reasons why DT is becoming such a popular early pick for the Buffalo Bills. First of all, they don’t have any defensive tackles signed past this season. Ed Oliver is playing on his fifth-year option (and has made it known he wants to get paid), Jordan Phillips recently re-signed on a one-year deal, and DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle are on the back half of their two-year deals.
The second reason is because GM Brandon Beane acknowledged this at his press conference on Tuesday.
“The one position that we don’t have a lot on the future is d-tackle. We don’t at this point… so if you were poking at something that the Bills would need to keep an eye on, that would probably be where you’d start.”Beane on Defensive tackle
And the third reason why it’s becoming more and more likely that the Buffalo Bills will draft a defensive tackle within the first two days of the draft is because of the talent at the position; this year’s class is front-loaded at DT.
There is talent throughout the draft, but the first two rounds are where you’ll find that sweet spot for finding a defensive tackle. Some names to keep an eye on are Mazi Smith (Michigan), Gervon Dexter (Florida), and Siaki Ika (Baylor).
But one other key player that Bills fans specifically should keep their eyes on is Keeanu Benton, a DT from Wisconsin.
Who is Keeanu Benton?
At 6’4”, 309 pounds, Benton is described as one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in this draft class. The 21-year-old is from Janesville, Wisconsin and grew up wrestling along with playing football. Benton was a two-time state qualifier in high school wrestling and was a Division I runner up his junior year (at 285 lbs), finishing with a record of 48-2. (Somewhere, Sean McDermott is smiling.)
A three-star recruit, Benton finished his four-year Badger career (45 games, 36 starts) with 81 tackles, 19.0 TFLs, and 9.0 sacks. His best season came in 2022, as he recorded 35 tackles (20 solo), 10.0 TFLs, and 4.5 sacks. Benton had 2.0 TFLs in four games last season, including each of his last three collegiate games. He also finished his senior season with a PFF grade of 73.6. (For reference, DaQuan Jones was the Bills’ highest-graded DT last year at 72.6.)
Benton will be graduating this spring with a degree in life sciences communication.
One of Benton’s strengths is in fact, his strength. According to Damian Parson of The Draft Network, he has “incredible raw power” and “brute strength”. It’s this power and strength that make him such a force on the inside, allowing him to eat up blocks and take on double teams. But not only can he eat up those blockers, he also uses his hands and his long arms very well in order to shake off those blockers and penetrate into the backfield to get the ball carrier.
That is something the Buffalo Bills have been looking for for years. They tried with Star Lotulelei, but he never panned out. They do have a 1-tech now in DaQuan Jones, but he has one year left on his two-year deal. A lot of fans were thinking that the Bills could extend the 31-year-old in order to create more cap space this offseason. But maybe they’ve just been thinking about replacing him with Keeanu Benton all along? (Siaki Ika also fits this mold of a big, run-stuffing DT who clears the lanes for the linebackers.)
Another one of Benton’s strengths is his ability to get after the quarterback. While he doesn’t have a ton of sacks on his ledger, his 9.0 sacks are only a half sack less than Siaki Ika, Gervon Dexter, and Mazi Smith COMBINED. (Dexter had 4.5 sacks in three seasons, Ika had 4.5 sacks in four seasons, and Smith only had 0.5 sacks in four seasons.)
So if the Bills want to find a stud DT who can affect both the run game and the passing game, Benton may be their guy.
One of Benton’s weaknesses is his pass rush ability. While I just said that he offers the most out of those four prospects in terms of getting after the quarterback, nine sacks still don’t jump off the stat sheet at you. For as much as we’ve talked about Ed Oliver not being able to get after the QB as much as we would like, he has 14.5 sacks over his four-year career.
With that said, Benton is not the most flexible or explosive interior lineman. According to Lance Zuerlein of NFL.com, he is a “slow-moving train once inside (the) pocket as a rusher” and has a “very limited tackle window and will primarily be an A-gap finisher”. So he may not be the best at tracking down the ball carrier past the line of scrimmage.
One other weakness that I found is that, because he is so big, he sometimes doesn’t use the best technique and lets his blockers get underneath him. But that’s something that you would hope can be fixed with some coaching and development at the next level.
Overall, Keeanu Benton is a great prospect. While he may have some flaws in his game, let’s face it — they all do. But it’s important to find which prospect has the most balance, in terms of what he can bring to your team on day one, and the most upside, in terms of how much more he can grow.
Benton is projected to be drafted in Round 2, with the potential to sneak into the back end of the first round. Either way, it’s looking like he will be selected within the first 50 picks. If he somehow falls to 59, Brandon Beane should be all over that.
But if the Buffalo Bills really like Keeanu Benton, then they will most likely have to trade up in the second round or take him 27th overall (or trade back into the second round). And just like that, we’re back to talking about drafting another defensive lineman in Round 1.
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