In his first season at Mississippi State, Johnthan Banks played primarily at safety, which is what he was recruited for out of high school. As the tall, physical defender makes yet another jump — this time to the NFL — he may be moving back to his more natural fit.
Banks spent the past three seasons playing at a premier level as a cornerback in the SEC, even being recognized as the nation’s best defensive back at the end of his senior season. But a lack of speed and some inconsistencies on the corner last season have NFL teams concerned that he’s a better fit over the top.
The Patriots need to improve their secondary after finishing near the bottom of the NFL in pass defense in both 2011 and 2012. With Aqib Talib back for a full season, Adrian Wilson newly signed to help out over the top and Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard now all one year older, the Patriots are in good position in the secondary. But they could still use more help.
Banks is a versatile defender with the ability to play both corner and safety, similar to McCourty when coming out of Rutgers in 2010. His big frame and ball skills make him an intriguing prospect but a bit different than McCourty, comparing him more closely to big press corners like Seattle’s Brandon Browner or Kansas City’s Sean Smith.
The Patriots have a number of needs to address in this draft and, as of now, only five picks to do it with. So, if a big, versatile playmaker like Banks is available at the end of Round 1, don’t be surprised if they snatch him up and begin filling out some of those holes.
Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots draft prospect every day from March 27 up until the start of the NFL Draft on April 25. Banks is the 23rd player in that series.
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
40 Time: 4.61 seconds
Vertical Jump: 34 inches
Banks made an immediate impact upon his arrival at Mississippi State, receiving Freshman All-SEC honors after making his mark at safety with four interceptions and two touchdowns in the 2009 season. As a sophomore he switched to cornerback, where he started all 12 games, intercepting three passes and recording seven passes defended. In 2011, his game took a huge leap forward in all areas, finishing his junior year with five interceptions, nine passes defended, eight tackles for loss, three sacks and three forced fumbles. He was inconsistent on the whole as a senior, but managed 63 tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defended. Banks was named a second-team All American and won the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s best defensive back, for his efforts.
Banks was recruited as a safety out of high school, and many teams may view him similarly as he enters the NFL. He is capable in man-to-man coverage and has great instincts and anticipation on passing routes, so he should able to transition into NFL defenses almost immediately. The Patriots would likely use him as a third or fourth option at corner and as a situational safety on passing downs. He would be able to contribute in the secondary as well as on special teams, where he excelled as a punt returner.
Likelihood He’s Around at No. 29:
Very good. Banks is one of the premier defensive backs in this year’s draft class, but a disappointing combine workout has seen him slip on many draft boards. Right now, he seems like either a late first- or early second-round pick. So, while slim, there is a chance he won’t be there for the Patriots at No. 29. Keep an eye on the Bengals (21st overall), Vikings (23rd and 25th), Packers (26th), and Broncos (28th) as other potential landing spots.
Game Tape breakdown:
Strengths: Banks is a tall, physical corner with the ability to play safety. He uses his size to his advantage and is very aggressive with receivers at the line of scrimmage. He has great anticipation of routes and reads quarterbacks very well. He also has good vision after the catch and is able to take any turnover back to the house for six. He’s a relentless player who also plays with a lot of energy and passion.
Weaknesses: Aside from an underwhelming 40 time at the combine, Banks did get beat on easy routes at time because of his lack of speed. He is an inconsistent tackler, and sometimes his aggressive style sees him over pursue in the open field. He doesn’t finish tackles at times and is too much of an arm tackler. He also offers too much cushion on routes, allowing receivers to make easy catches.
Scout Banks for yourself below.
Next Up: Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, DE, Florida State
Other potential prospects: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State | Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee | Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse | Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor | Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina | Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia | David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State | Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee | Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut | Margus Hunt, DT, SMU | Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M | Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU | Barrett Jones, C, Alabama | DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State | Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech | Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama | Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia | Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers | Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State