With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#36: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
We continue this year's series with Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks, who came to his school as a lightly-recruited player out of Maben, Miss., and made a big splash as a true freshman. In his third collegiate game ever, playing at free safety, he picked off two passes from the arm of one Tim Tebow -- then Florida's quarterback -- and returned both interceptions for touchdowns. Now, while it may be true that stealing a couple of wounded ducks from Tebow isn't exactly all-time stuff, Banks kept his performance level high through a collegiate career that included 45 starts, 139 solo tackles, 15 interceptions, 41 passes defensed, and five forced fumbles. He also returned 30 punts for 289 yards and a touchdown, and won the 2012 Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in the nation.
However, Banks missed the Senior Bowl due to a knee injury, and disappointed at the scouting combine with a 4.62 40-yard dash -- hardly an optimal time for a 6-foot-2, 185-pound defensive back who's not going to bowl anyone over with his pure physicality. He ran slightly better times at his pro day, but those inconclusive results certainly had NFL teams heading back to the tape, wondering if Banks could grow (literally and figuratively) into a top-level pass defender worthy of a first-round pick. Right now, I'd say it depends on what you need out of a cornerback, and the system you intend to use.
“I think I can play against anybody," Banks said at the scouting combine. "I can own anybody. I think I can cover Megatron.”
Well, we'll see about that. We're sure that Calvin Johnson will be very interested in meeting Mr. Banks for the first time.
Pros: Legitimate press corner who redistributes receivers very well inside and outside. Establishes position from the snap from the line. Gets sticky in short spaces with more physical receivers without initiating too much contact. Has ideal quickness to slip inside to the slot. Consistently good backpedal, hip turn, and lateral movement. Mirrors receivers impressively on slants and drags. Has the recovery speed to counter curls and quick in routes when playing off coverage. Can bait quarterbacks and jump routes in a hurry. Reads the backfield astutely and exhibits excellent timing when breaking from deeper coverage to play shorter and intermediate routes. Uses height to his advantage -- can high-point with the tallest receivers and make plays in the air.
Cons: Comes downhill well, but doesn't exhibit ideal tackling awareness in space -- needs to get better body control when wrapping up. Tends to arm- and drag-tackle when he should wrap up. Gets blocked out of run plays too easily by receivers. Has the speed to blitz off the edge, but must be virtually unblocked to get home. Too often duped by jukes and foot-fakes when playing the run. better receivers than quarterbacks for the most part -- may struggle at the next level with play action, pump-fakes, and being led with his eyes when dealing with the NFL's more advanced signal-callers. Thin athlete who could stand to gain about 10 pounds of muscle. Times speed shows up on deeper routes -- Banks doesn't have the acceleration to keep up with vertical speed receivers on the edge.
Conclusion: The fact that Banks has played some free safety at a fairly high level makes him an interesting positional chip at the next level, especially with teams that like to play heavy nickel and dime coverages, and move their guys around. Late in his career, Charles Woodson showed the amazing value of such players, and while Banks isn't at that level yet (he may never be, but Woodson's a deadlock Hall-of-Famer), he does possess some striking attributes that transition well to today's NFL.
He's got the kind of open-field ranginess teams prefer when facing an abundance of three- and four-receiver sets, he plays well in the slot, and he can move up high in different packages. Jenkins has played both cornerback and safety for the Saints, and Banks may be best-served by the same level of functional versatility.
NFL Comparison: Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints