Michael Bennett is an outlier.
Rarely do you see an inconsistent college football player that tests poorly at the NFL Scouting Combine (a 5.13-second 40-yard dash and a 31-inch vertical leap at 6 feet 4, 274 pounds) go undrafted, get cut, sign with another team only to sign back with his original team and become one of the league’s best defensive linemen. After back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances from Michael Bennett in 2015 and 2016, here we are.
He dealt with injuries in 2016 that limited him to 11 games. In 2015, according to Pro Football Focus, he tallied 81 total quarterback pressures to lead NFC defensive lineman. He is equally as solid as a run defender and offers the versatility to play inside or outside on the defensive line.
I took a deep dive into his film to find specific components of his game that make him one of the league’s best defensive lineman. A combination of his technique, power, quickness and processing skills make him great.
Bennett has the play speed of a defensive end and the stoutness of a defensive tackle. So Seattle can play him inside or outside without any liabilities because he can exchange power on the interior and maintain his gap integrity. His quickness and technique is often too much to handle for interior offensive lineman.
A quick inside jab step, arm extension to keep separation from the blockers and a rip move to soften the rush angle and finish lead to a sack on this rep. This type of activity is uncommon for interior blockers to see but it’s exactly what they get against Bennett.
Bennett can lineup anywhere along the defensive line and present problems for blockers and Seattle takes full advantage. He’s lined up as a 4i technique here; it’s uncommon for a player in that alignment to attack the A-gap but that’s what Bennett does here. Very few interior blockers have the foot speed, control and balance to redirect their feet back inside to shut down the interior gap. Again, Bennett uses his arm extension to keep the blocker away from his frame, find the football and finish.
Even when Bennett isn’t supposed to be a factor, often he is. On this rep, Bennett is a backside defender to a play he had no business involved in given its design. He is so quick out of his stance and attacks the gap in such a way that it reduces his surface area and makes it difficult for blockers to get their hands on him. The result is a tackle for loss and the offense going back to the drawing board.
Bennett doesn’t just win inside by being quicker than everybody, he has the strength to hold his own. This rep is a culmination of so many positive components. First, he chips the tackle who is releasing to the second level. He then feels the outside pressure from the tight end’s down block, blows up the pulling guard, finds the football and finishes. Simply put, he wrecks plays.
Bennett is a smart football player who understands play concepts and how to defend them. This rep is a great example of that. Bennett quickly recognizes the down block of the offensive tackle. Defensive lineman know that if someone is leaving then someone is coming. Bennett wisely gets parallel and works down the line of scrimmage. He plays through the oncoming kick-out block and makes a play behind the line of scrimmage.
Bennett’s pass rushing attack is built on his quickness, hands and ability to minimize his surface area all at the same time to beat blocks and pressure the passer. This rep encapsulates that as Bennett attacks the offensive tackle with a club-swim while getting skinny through the gap and finishing.
Seattle’s defensive linemen stunt quite a bit but they are also capable of playing straight up. Bennett demonstrates the principles of stacking and shedding on this rep, proving that it doesn’t matter where or he is used, Bennett can make an impact.
Bennett is aware that he isn’t the most flexible player, one capable of bending the corner around fleet-footed offensive tackles. He overcomes that with his ability to attack interior gaps but if that’s all he did then he would be much easier to handle for offensive tackles. One way that he counters is with a bull rush.
Facing David Bakhtiari on this rep, Bennett knows he isn’t going to beat him around the edge. Instead, he executes a bull rush by converting speed to power and out-leveraging Bakhtiari to collapse the pocket and sack Aaron Rodgers.
Myself included, NFL draft analysts are guilty of commonly labeling defensive end/tackle tweener prospects as the next Michael Bennett or a “Michael Bennett type”. After studying his tape, it’s not that simple. He offers a rare blend of quickness, power, technique and processing skills that are maximized in Seattle’s scheme.
His presence allows more multiplicity in the fronts Seattle can play and no matter where he is lined up, he has traits he can rely on to make an impact. Bennett is one of the most valuable, dominant playmakers among today’s defensive lineman.
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