Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks came to school looking to play the quarterback position, but all he’s done in his four years since is intercept them 15 times and lock down their top targets. Banks will go into the 2013 NFL Draft as the top prospect at his position for a variety of reasons, most notably his size, playmaking ability, willingness in run support and passion for the game.
Banks was one of the most dynamic athletes coming out of high school, playing wide receiver and safety. He was recruited as a safety and that’s where he initially began his college career, making a big splash by staring six of the final seven games of his freshman season. The highlight of his freshman year came against the Florida Gators and quarterback Tim Tebow, who Banks logged two pick-six interceptions against.
In Johnthan Banks’ sophomore and junior years, he played cornerback and became one of the most impressive defensive backs in the SEC by displaying his natural ability to make big plays. His junior season saw him gain popularity among draftniks, many of which considered Banks to be one of the top prospects at his position. However, I didn’t initially agree with this because of questions with speed and a lack of consistency in his technique.
After receiving a fourth-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, Banks returned to Mississippi State for his senior season and has shown improvement in all areas of his game.
He’s always had great playmaking ability, displaying the talent to plant his foot in the ground and drive on the ball to come up with a game-changing interception, but he hasn‘t always attacked angles properly.
An example of an improper angle is when one attacks the ball on a slant route; instead of attacking the up-field shoulder, Banks has been prone in the past to taking too narrow of a path and failing to intersect the ball to intercept it or dislodging it from the receivers grasp.
This season, he has done a better job overall of attacking the ball in the air, as witnessed against Auburn in week 2 when he snatched two interceptions by breaking on the ball downhill and finishing the play -- a vital part of playing at the defensive back position.
He also showed improvement in run support, proving that he could not only get physical and bring down ball carriers but also take proper angles in doing so, which he sometimes did not do last year.
Moreover, Banks has impressive size and length, checking in at roughly 6’2” and possessing long arms that allow him to re-route receivers at the line of scrimmage while mirroring them. This has led to some, namely New York Giants General Manager Jerry Reese, to compare him to Antonio Cromartie.
While the combination of height, weight and speed typically dominates the argument, passion is often overlooked by many, including NFL scouts. One of the league’s best scouts is Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome because he understands how to identify passion along with talent.
In a recent interview with NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, Newsome explained how he identifies passion on the game tape:
“You see it when a guy runs to the football. The way they play when they’re not involved in the play, what are they doing? When he’s not involved, is he running to the ball? Is he still playing with the fundamentals he’s supposed to play with during that time?”
Because of his excellence, Johnthan Banks doesn’t see the ball come in his direction on many plays, which gives scouts the opportunity to assess his passion. Banks shows great passion in these instances, whether it is by mixing it up with wide receivers that are attempting to block him or showing consistency in his technique as well as when he’s flying from the opposite side of the field to get involved in run support.
While Banks does have many positives, he still has questions surrounding his game and areas that he needs to improve on like any other prospect. One of the questions with his talent is his speed or lack thereof, which he has sometimes proven to lack when being tested vertically. More often than not, this has been covered up because of the scheme he’s playing in.
Banks is usually seen dropping into the deep third of the field in a 4-underneath, 3-deep Cover 3 zone coverage shell. This coverage concept enables him to be the deepest man in the battle against the receiver and break downhill on passes (when not tested deep), resulting in a scheme that plays to his strengths.
He also often plays with a cushion of roughly seven to eight yards that allows him to backpedal or shuffle as he reads the receiver and then flip his hips once his cushion is threatened vertically. As a result, he’s not often beaten.
Furthermore, Banks still has a tendency to tackle ball carriers high around the shoulders, but this can be corrected with coaching.
Despite these concerns, Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks remains the top cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft class and a potential first-round pick because of his size, ability to make plays on the ball, get after ball carriers in the run game and has great passion for the game.
Banks is a fit for a scheme that allows him to play in press-man coverage, enabling him to use his length to reroute receivers, for teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs.