NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
Perhaps the most intriguing rumor currently circulating from a New England Patriots perspective is the club’s rumored interest in Mississippi State senior cornerback Johnthan Banks, first reported by DraftInsider.net writer Tony Pauline, who claimed that the Patriots were considering drafting Banks in the draft’s first round.
New England was one of the twenty-five teams in attendance at Mississippi State’s March 6th pro day, which also featured prospects such as cornerback Darius Slay (profiled on NEPD last week) and defensive tackle Josh Boyd. Read on to find out whether or not it’s reasonable to expect Banks in a Patriots uniform come draft day.
Banks’ pedigree is among the most impressive in the entire draft class; he began his collegiate career as a special teams contributor but eventually started seven of twelve games as a freshman safety, being named a Freshman All-SEC selection by conference coaches based on his 33 tackles and four interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns.) As a sophomore, he converted to cornerback and started twelve of thirteen games on the left side of Mississippi State’s defense, making 54 tackles (1.5 for loss, one sack) and three interceptions that year.
He was perhaps most impressive as a junior, when he intercepted five passes (scoring on one return) to complement his 71 tackles (eight for loss, three sacks) and three forced fumbles; Banks added to his value on special teams by returning one of his sixteen punts for a touchdown. However, he was narrowly edged out for a spot on the conference’s All-SEC First or Second Team, owing to the conference’s wealth of defensive back talent (including first-round picks Mark Barron, Morris Claiborne, and Dre Kirkpatrick, along with players such as Tyrann Mathieu, Baccari Rambo, Casey Hayward, Brandon Boykin, and Winston Guy.)
Nonetheless, Banks entered the season projected as a high first-round pick and enjoyed an impressive senior season, culminating in being named the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner, representing the NCAA’s top defensive back. Additionally, he was named a member of the All-SEC First Team by conference coaches for his level of play. On the season, Banks recorded 63 tackles (two for loss), four interceptions, and one forced fumble.
However, Banks’ lackluster performance at the NFL Combine delivered a serious blow to his draft stock. Projected to be drafted within the first ten to fifteen picks (and considered a likely target of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who hold the thirteenth overall selection this year), it is almost impossible to imagine him being selected that high after running the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds, the three-cone drill in 6.97 seconds, and the 20-yard short shuttle in 4.27 seconds. His ten repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press and his 34” vertical jump did little to help his case.
Although Banks’ Combine numbers would seemingly indicate otherwise, perhaps his best role at the NFL level is as an outside cornerback in a press-man scheme, where his size, physicality, and long arms enable him to disrupt timing routes and prevent clean releases. Despite not running particularly well in Indianapolis, Banks showed the ability to stay in-phase down the field, even against top wide receivers such as Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and former South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, now with the Chicago Bears.
Because the Bulldogs were in zone coverage shells often during Banks’ tenure there, he is also well-versed in those coverages, particularly in Cover 3 shells. Banks’ ball skills and eagerness to support the run lend themselves well to this style of defense, although playing so far off line of scrimmage prevents him from being able to jam wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Still, his experience in zone coverage would undoubtedly appeal to Bill Belichick and may help allay concerns that his lack of timed speed will be crippling at the NFL level.
Based on Banks’ game tape and production over four years in the SEC, he would be well-worth New England’s first-round selection as a replacement for left cornerback Aqib Talib, who appears increasingly likely to depart in free agency. However, it’s also possible that his lack of measurable correlated with NFL success have already cost him an opportunity with the Patriots, and that their interest in him is only a smokescreen. Bill Belichick has been historically averse to drafting cornerbacks who run over a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Film should trump any workout numbers, but it’s also dangerous to draft a player in the first round who may not have the athleticism necessary for perhaps the most athletically-demanding position in the league.