It’s a bit puzzling that the league coaches only awarded Michael Bennett second-team all-Big Ten Conference honors, especially since CBSSports.com deemed him their All-American first-team choice. The Buckeyes team co-captain might have been the least heralded of the OSU front line mates (Bennett jokes he’s the “runt of the litter as a four-star recruit while the other starters were five-star products), but despite double-team action, he again recorded seven sacks and was second on the team with fourteen stops-for-loss this season.
Yes, Bennett was overshadowed by fellow tackle Adolphus Washington and the future star, Joey Bosa, a J.J. Watt clone, but no game highlighted the weak-side tackle’s importance during their national championship march than when he recorded a pair of sacks and took Melvin Gordon down four times behind the line of scrimmage to limit Wisconsin to 71 yards rushing in the 2014 Big Ten title clash.
Bennett started 29-of-49 games for the Buckeyes, totaling 111 tackles with 18.0 sacks and 31.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. His best season was in 2013, as he posted 42 tackles with 11.5 TFL, three forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries, despite playing the second half of that season as a “one-armed bandit” (left shoulder damage prevented him from lifting his arm to wrap-up and secure). He also gamely battled through eight games with a severe groin injury as a sophomore.
Scouts see Bennett as a player similar to Rams rookie Pro Bowler, Aaron Donald – a player that has proven that power trumps size any day, especially for interior defenders with explosive feet and “cement” for hands. The former offensive guard battled through injury issues in 2012, but was OSU’s difference maker in 2013, as the strong-side tackle made seven sacks and among his 11.5 stops-for-loss.
He’s also been compared to the Falcons’ Jordan Babineaux and Green Bay’s Mike Daniels, as Bennett looks shorter than ideal to be a two-gap tackle, but he has good upper body thickness, a solid lower frame, firm midsection and good bubble. The Buckeye has above average acceleration off the snap and shows the flexibility and knee bend to consistently gain leverage. He moves with very good balance and coordination, flashing enough burst to be disruptive at times.
Bennett is a bit of an overachiever, but he is cat-quick when coming off the snap, and shows intelligence and a high motor to deliver steady production. He lines up mostly at weak-side defensive tackle, but is more suited for left end at the next level, as he has enough field smarts to play off blocks when attacking from the edge, even though he’s had very good success taking angles and shooting the inside gaps.
The first thing you notice is Bennett’s has outstanding feet, along with good agility and balance on the move, along with the smooth change of direction and flexibility to recover when he out-runs a play (see the final stand by the OSU defense near the goal-line on Oregon’s last ditch series in the national title game).
Bennett is not fooled by play action and shows good effort on every play. He is a tough blue collar type who will play hurt and likes the challenge. Bennett is a physically tough player who will throw his body around with reckless abandon to make the play.
Bennett flashes explosion as a bull rusher, and is very quick into his second move. He is routinely quick off the ball to engage the blocker. He shows good feet in his straight-ahead burst and is sudden in his moves to gain advantage. He is a quick twitch type who is very active with his hands in attempts to disengage, as he is very successful in attempts to gain immediate edge at the snap, along with the quickness to get into the gaps and disrupt.
Bennett might lack the bulk you look for in a defensive tackle and will more likely move to defensive end in the pros, but much like the Falcons’ Jonathan Babineaux and the Packers’ Mike Daniels, he can fight and stack when he is able to gain good leverage. He does get a little high in his stance and this allows taller offensive linemen to get into his chest, but he works hard to compensate by keeping his hands active while generating strong upper body power.
Bennett uses his hands very well to disengage, and has very good lateral and up field quickness to get past the offensive tackles. He does a nice job of using his hands to keep separation and get off the line while controlling the blockers. His excellent upper body power is evident when he generates a hand punch that consistently rocks the offensive tackles back on their heels.
Bennett shows very good strength when locking up the runner and will deliver explosive hits. He does get a little out of control at times, as he feels he has to make every play, but this is improving as he is maturing. With his strength he displays in locking up, he has had very good success vs. massive offensive guards the last two years.
Even when he encounters an obvious weight disadvantage vs. the bigger offensive tackles when playing off the edge (will slide to weak-side end in a 3-4 scheme), he has the strength to hold his ground and when he keeps his pad level low, he is tough to move out. A lethargic blocker can also lose the battle with Bennett, thanks to his quickness in the gaps, in addition to having the speed to disrupt the plays in the backfield when in pursuit.
Unlike most slow-footed defensive tackles, Bennett generates a sudden burst to get to the quarterback after he clears his blocker. He has very good up-field speed and is effective on the bull rush due to good counter moves when pressuring. You can see on film that he is a savvy player with above average snap reaction (see 2015 National title game).
A smart team that plays Bennett at weak-side end in a 3-4 defensive alignment will also benefit by having him work in-line, especially on stunts and twists, where he can be quite effective because of his explosion and strength. He chases hard all the time, and makes a lot of plays out of sheer effort. He can look choppy when he gets too tall and tries to get through the interior trash, but has the straight line burst to close on the ball carrier or quarterback, and an explosive burst to flush out the passer.
Michael Bennett Scouting Combine measurables
6-2/293 (4.77 forty)
33 5/8-inch arm length
10 ¼ -inch hands
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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