The 6’4, 315-pound Keeanu Benton was a very good nose tackle/defensive tackle during his 4 years with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Benton finishes his career at Wisconsin with 80 tackles and 9 sacks.
Before the NFL Draft, Benton has been making a stronger case for himself to be drafted higher at the Senior Bowl.
Benton leaving for the NFL leaves a big void along the defensive front.
Losing an anchor on the defensive line is always hard to replace. Good thing the Badgers have plenty of talent on the defense to try and fill that void.
Luke Fickell usually runs a 3-3-5 defense which requires 3 defensive linemen. While the Jim Leonhard defense was a 3-4, it has some similarities, so the team has a player on the team that fits the Benton role.
Usually, with the 3-4 that Wisconsin ran last year you have two defensive tackles and two defensive ends/outside linebackers.
With Luke Fickell, you will see more of a traditional nose tackle playing the 0 technique right above the center. They will have two gaps taking both A gaps as their responsibility.
I would expect a few players to replace Benton. A few to keep an eye on are Gio Paez and Curt Neal battling for the starting nose tackle role.
Now, this doesn't mean they will be the only guys that get run-at-nose tackle, I expect the defensive ends that Jim Leonhard used last year will also play some nose tackle.
Players like Rodas Johnson, James Thompson Jr., and Isaiah Mullens can all get playing time at the nose tackle position.
The nose tackle position in Fickells defense is more like the defensive end position in Leonhard's defense because they are inside on the guards rather that out wide.
The most productive replacement from last season that may get reps at the nose tackle position is Rodas Johnson and James Thompson Jr., both with 23 tackles, Johson with 1 sack, and Thompson with 2.
There are also Isaish Mullens who had 11 tackles, Gio Paez with 11 tackles, and Curt Neal with 3 tackles.
If I had to predict who will start in replace of Keeanu Benton leaving for the NFL, I’d say the top two right now are Gio Paez and Curt Neal.