Jonathan Banks figures to be a first round pick in Aprils NFL Draft. Photo Courtesy HailState.com
Jonathan Banks capped off his four years at Mississippi State with the highest honor a defensive back can receive: the Jim Thorpe Award. Banks won the award after his 2012 campaign saw him intercept four passes, make 59 tackles and force a fumble.
Banks has nine interceptions and over 120 total tackles during the past two seasons at Mississippi State. He was named to the AP Second Team All-SEC in 2011 and was an unanimous choice for First Team All-SEC in 2012. Banks has seen significant playing time since his freshman season and has been a full-time starter at Mississippi State for the past three seasons.
Run Support - Banks is unusually active in run support for a cornerback. Unlike some defensive backs, Banks looks for and embraces contact. Banks is fast off the snap and is able to get into the backfield quickly, while staying disciplined in his role.
Tackling - To go along with run defense, Banks is a very solid tackler. He uses his hands and arms to wrap up wide receivers and running backs. Banks is also very active at stripping the football, forcing four fumbles over the past two seasons.
Athleticism - Playmaker is one word to describe Banks. He returned punts at Mississippi State, averaging over 10 yards per return in 2011 and taking one back for a touchdown. Another upside to Banks is that he played safety early in his career in Starkville. Banks is very good at jump balls and going up to get the ball at its highest point while in coverage.
Cover Skills - Banks is a little raw in coverage. There are some plays he finds himself out of position and having to makeup bad coverage with his speed. Banks needs improvement in changing directions and relies too much on his athleticism to make up for blown coverages.
Patrick Peterson (ARI) - Just like when Peterson left LSU in 2011, Jonathan Banks needs work with his coverage skills. Also like Peterson, Banks returns punts and is extremely athletic. Although whichever team drafts Banks will have to experience his growing pains, he will come in and make an immediate impact on special teams, but will need time to improve his coverage skills.
While this year's draft is lacking at the skill positions like quarterback and wide receiver, there's tons of depth on the offensive and defensive line. Luke Joeckel, the left tackle for the Texas A&M Aggies, leads OL prospects and will be taken in the top 10 but has a chance to slip into the top 5 depending on who's drafting there.
He's started all 26 games since being named a starter at LT as a freshman and was on the Big-12 First Team in 2011. Listed at 6'6" and 310 pounds, Joeckel has the necessary size to start in the NFL and has demonstrated the strength and skills needed to protect the QB's blind side.
Experience - Now a junior, Joeckel's a three year starter and with Texas A&M's move to the SEC he's been able to play against the top defensive talent in the nation. In the game against LSU, he's going against likely the most talented line in college as the Tigers have four potential first-rounders including DE Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. That type of experience against future NFL players will be very attractive for teams looking for a guy they can plug in right away, something expected of a top pick.
Pass Protection - While A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been magnificent in his own right, a lot of his success can be attributed to Joeckel and RT Jake Matthews, who also could be drafted in the first round this year. Joeckel uses his hands very well to avoid holding calls and buy Manziel more time. With running quarterbacks, it can be tough for linemen to not grab some of the rusher's jersey, but Joeckel seems to have figured that out. He's got the necessary speed, strength, and technique to succeed in the NFL.
Run Blocking - Joeckel isn't bad at run blocking, but he's not elite either. It's rare to find guys who are great at both the pass and the run because they require different skills, but when looking at elite players, you have to start nit picking to find flaws. This is an area Joeckel will have to improve to become a top LT but even if he's average, his pass blocking will make him a starter.
Ceiling - Despite being the best tackle in the draft, Joeckel doesn't have the same hype surrounding him that Matt Kalil or Joe Thomas had. Those guys had the chance to become the best at their position (Thomas already is) and Joeckel doesn't have that same ceiling. Teams may want a guy with more potential, but they'll probably have to find it at a different position.
CBSSports.com has Joeckel as the number one overall prospect in the 2013 draft. I don't think I'd put him ahead of Jarvis Jones and maybe Manti Te'o, but he will be a good value starting around the fifth pick in the draft. The Philadelphia Eagles or Arizona Cardinals will be looking for offensive line help and could be drafting in the range where Joeckel makes sense. It's hard to make comparisons for linemen but Duane Brown of the Houston Texans might work. Joeckel should be a starter in the NFL for a long time, but may never become elite.
Many regard Georgia's pass rusher Jarvis Jones as the best player in this draft class. The junior from Columbus, Georgia, got to Athens in 2010 after transferring from USC. Jones redshirted that year and started every game in 2011, posting 70 tackles and 13.5 sack. Being named a first team All-American by every major sports media outlet.
In 2012, Jones has recorded 72 tackles, 10.5 sacks and one interception in 12 games. He is playing on a Georgia team that is ranked No. 3 in the country and a defense that ranks 16th in the nation in scoring defense.
Pass Rushing Moves - Jones has pass rushing skills that very few college defenders have. Jones' best move is his spin move, which compares to that of Dwight Freeney's. Jones is not just a one move player, he uses multiple moves to get past offensive lineman and to the quarterback. Jones can rush off the edge or get inside and fight off interior lineman.
Use of Hands - Jones' use of his hands is quite advanced for a junior in college. He uses his hand placement to get leverage over offensive lineman and improve his position. Jones' best move is his swim move, where he uses his strength to move offensive linemen out of the way. Jones also uses his hands to fight off blocks.
Intelligence/Fundamentals - Jones is a smart football player. He knew how to handle Florida's read option and rarely got fooled on misdirection plays. Jones is explosive off the line of scrimmage and almost always gets good jumps off the snap. The Columbus native is also a very good tackler.
Versatility - From what I saw on film, Jones does two things really well. Rush the passer and tackle. Jones is not asked to drop in coverage much in Georgia's defensive scheme. With the emergence of the tight end position in the NFL, outside linebackers are asked to cover tight ends, receivers and backs in the passing game. From what I have seen, Jones fits the mold of a 3-4 outside linebacker perfectly, however it remains to be seen if he can excel in a 4-3 scheme.
Jones has a very good chance to have the best NFL career of any player in this draft. No pass rusher in this class has the athleticism or skills that Jones possesses. I do not think Jones will be taken first overall, because the teams projected there have too many holes on offense. Jones will not fall out of the top five though. Watching his film, he reminds me of Dwight Freeney and DeMarcus Ware.