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2021 Breakout Badgers: Keeanu Benton

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The first in our series of players who we think are going to breakout for Wisconsin this season.

Wisconsin v Michigan
Benton, No. 95, is a monster in the middle of the defense for Wisconsin.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Last football offseason we went through every single player on the Wisconsin Badgers roster. While it was certainly interesting to dig into some of the lesser known players, there were a lot of players where, well to put it politely there just wasn’t a lot to say about every player on the team.

This offseason we decided to go in a bit of a different direction and now each writer (who wanted to participate) has picked one player that they think is going to breakout this year in Madison. We are using “breakout” in the broadest sense so that this isn’t all guys buried on the depth chart. To us, “breakout” means taking the next step in your career and reaching the next level.

You’ll find many names you are already familiar with, and so without further ado, let’s get started!

Wisconsin v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Player name: Keeanu Benton
Position: nose tackle
Year: true junior (we use the official listing from UWBadgers.com’s roster which doesn’t take into account the COVID year until the player takes it)
2020 stats: eight tackles, one forced fumble, one QB hit

2021 breakout reasons: I am already on the record as saying that I think Benton will be the first Badger chosen in the 2022 NFL Draft if he declares. He is that talented.

Last year was obviously strange for myriad reasons, but Benton was still a rock in the middle of the Wisconsin defense. He played in all seven games, earning five starts, and while he didn’t put up gaudy tackle numbers, he’s the kind of guy that makes it easier for the Jack Sanborns and Leo Chenals of the world to make stops.

During his freshman season, he had 12 tackles (four tackles for loss) and two sacks showing that he isn’t just a space-eater up front. He can get into the backfield and cause havoc himself.

Coming into college, the native of Janesville was not a highly touted prospect. He was rated 3-stars by the 247 Composite and the No. 85 DT and No. 1,238 player in the country. He was rated No. 18 (out of 19 players total) in Wisconsin’s class overall. This was not a guy many were predicting big things out of, let alone as a true freshman.

Benton now stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 313 pounds. After two years of Big Ten football he is ready to burst onto the scene in year three. He now has the playbook and technical knowledge to go along with his physical gifts and when you put that together, he’s going to be a handful for opposing offensive lines.

We should have a pretty good handle on how Benton is going to play this year after the opening game against Penn State. The Nittany Lions lost a pair of starting interior offensive linemen from last year, but they always have good players waiting in the wings on the o-line.

2021 season prediction: I think he ups his counting stats significantly this year with 25+ tackles, eight TFL, five sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’ll make an all-Big Ten team, although who knows how much love he’ll get since his numbers won’t be crazy. His NFL decision will depend on how the Badgers do as a team. If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten and goes to a New Year’s Six bowl, he’ll go pro. If not...I could see him running it back one more time with a very veteran d-line unit.