If you're fortunate enough to be big and play cornerback well, you'll very likely have a future in the NFL. This is the case for Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks and his future looks worthy of a first-round pick in this year's NFL Draft.
At 6-foot-2, Banks has the height desired as the league moves towards a more physical game out on the outside between corners and wide receivers. While he's a little undersized at 185 pounds, he's got room to grow, but it's his height and how well he uses it on the football field that have scouts falling for the first-team All-SEC honoree as a senior. This week Bleacher Report's resident draft guru, Matt Miller (@NFLDraftScout), is back with us to break down why Banks is such a commodity and why he would make a great fit for the Falcons.
In Banks, Miller sees a player with the current skillset to come into the NFL and start right away. He's the No. 4 cornerback on Miller's top-30 board and with his blend of skills and size, Miller would be shocked to see Banks last until No. 30 for the Falcons. But if he's there, he likes the fit for the Falcons, with Banks starting opposite Asante Samuel and helping hold down the coverage as the Falcons work to improve their pass rush.
"Johnthan has the ability to step right into the NFL as a No. 1 cornerback for most teams," Miller said. "He's physical, can be aggressive in coverage and against the run and moves well enough to keep pace with wide receivers down the field. He's a Day One starter coming out of Mississippi State."
As a senior Banks collared 63 tackles and four interceptions along with two tackles for loss and 11 passes defensed. In addition to all-conference honors, he was a second-team All American and was the winner of The Jim Thorpe Award, awarded to the nation's best defensive back. Banks' career at MSU has been decorated and productive even from the beginning. With four interceptions, two returned for TDs, as a freshman, Banks was named to the All-Freshman SEC squad and continue to build on that foundation, but not without having to learn a new position.
He started seven games at safety as a freshman and moved over to corner during his sophomore season and got right to work, starting 12 games, recording three interceptions and seven pass breakups. He recorded five interceptions as a junior before his outstanding senior season, but his final year didn't come without some lumps. An injury slowed him at times during the second half of his senior season, but he never came out of the ball game. That injury hurt his draft season workouts, but the film he's put out there has been strong enough to counter some of lower-than-expected workout numbers.
A hamstring injury kept him from playing in the Senior Bowl and while his Combine time was slower than expected (4.61 40), he made up for it recently with his Pro Day, where scouts saw him run a 4.58 40 with some other impressive numbers, including a 10-foot-six broad jump. Miller spoke with Banks at the Combine and his lower numbers were due to the lingering hamstring injury. Although his offseason workouts may have hurt him a little, the fact that he played through injuries at a high level as a senior speaks well for his attitude and approach to football.
"You always want to see a player's toughness on display, so something like this helps team's perceptions of Banks," Miller said. "As we all know, NFL players are only healthy before training camp and are constantly playing through some level of injury or pain. Banks' ability to play through the knee problem definitely goes down as a positive on his scouting report."
Something else that stands out to scouts is Banks' 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as a senior. It's indicative of a player that only knows one way to play and that's hard and physical and most scouts believe they'll get a confident and aggressive player that won't back down.
"Banks' ability to sack the cornerback and attack the line of scrimmage shows that we're dealing with a physical, aggressive, no non-sense cornerback," Miller said. "Banks, in my eye, is a great fit for a physical scheme that wants a cornerback who can play press coverage, attack the run and make plays off the edge."
One skill that Banks showed off while in college was returning, but Miller doesn't see Banks doing much of that in the league. Projected as a No. 1-type corner, few teams will want to put that investment at risk, though there's still some ability there. As a senior he had a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown, but Miller doesn't see an NFL-caliber return man in Banks, but it's still another tool Banks has in his arsenal that makes him valuable and well-rounded.
Because of his ability to play the ball hawk role from his experience at safety to his physical play all over the field, Miller sees a comparison to Chicago's Charles Tillman in Banks.
"I see Banks playing very similar to a Charles Tillman-type of cornerback who can be physical both in coverage and at the line of scrimmage," Miller said. "He's not quite as big as Tillman, but plays in a way that's very comparable."