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On the Draft Board: Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton

One of the first big names that revealed ties to Kansas City this draft cycle is an enormous defensive tackle.

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Wisconsin v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The NFL Combine kicked off on Monday of this week, leading to many reports and rumors circling the NFL Draft coming out. On Wednesday, one intriguing prospect told reporters that he had a formal meeting scheduled with the Kansas City Chiefs later that day.

Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton is one of the biggest names among the interior-line prospects in this year’s draft — and one of my favorite prospects that I studied early in this process.

Here’s what to know about a potential draft target for Kansas City:

Background

Benton was invited to the 2023 Senior Bowl, participating and impressing many analysts covering the week of practices. He measured at over 6’3” while weighing 312 lbs. He boasted a wingspan of 81 3/4 inches, the fourth-highest mark among the defensive line prospects measured that week.

Benton was a three-star recruit for football out of high school but also impressed on the wrestling mat: he qualified for state twice, finishing as runner-up in the 285-pound weight class his junior season. He used that profile to immediately contribute at Wisconsin, where he started six games and played in all 13 during his first year on campus.

He would go on to earn honors for All-Big Ten second team in 2021, then the third team in 2022.

Over 39 career games, Benton totaled 19 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He also forced two fumbles, batted three passes down, and earned pressure on 12.4% of his pass-rush snaps in 2022; for comparison, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter earned pressure on 11.6% of his rushes last year.

Film evaluation

Benton played primarily the nose tackle position for the Badgers, using his massive size to plug up the A-gap and absorb double teams against Big Ten-run games.

What makes Benton a legitimate NFL prospect is how well he moves at his size. On top of being a handful for any guard or center to deal with, he can fire out with a good first step and run down the line of scrimmage to chase down outside runs.

His consistent control of blocks allows him to read offensive flows well, and he has the movement skills and power to redirect himself and change gaps to follow the ball.

On top of Benton’s nimble feet, he has some powerful hands when clubbing a blocker or ripping through. His mass and width already make him hard to stay in front of as an offensive lineman, but his fundamental hand usage and general intelligence as a rusher make him nearly impossible to completely stonewall in a one-on-one situation.

Those skills show up when he’s getting after the quarterback, using different moves to get past a blocker — but also being active in pass lanes. He shows good effort in batting down passes.

When Benton does need to fire out and bench press a lineman, he gets into a low stance and is able to come out with good leverage — despite being taller than the typical interior lineman.

How he fits with the Chiefs

The Chiefs need a starting defensive tackle to pair with Chris Jones, and Benton could step into that role immediately. With Jones being the penetrator, Benton can be the gap-stuffing complement that patrols the A-gap primarily. That role on early downs would just be the floor of Benton’s outlook, however. I believe Benton could develop into a multi-dimensional player that the Chiefs don’t want to take off the field — whether it’s a short-yardage play or a third-and-long.

The bottom line

Benton is currently projected to be drafted near the top of the second round, pushing to become a selection on Day 1. With the athletic profile he has at his size, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his stock rise after the NFL Combine.

What that means: the Chiefs may only have one chance to take the big man, and it’d have to be with their first selection of the weekend. Kansas City will have to internally debate whether this positional need is worth the draft capital.

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