Countless fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were thrilled when their team traded for All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis on Sunday. Johnthan Banks, on the other hand, was worried.
Banks, the Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back in 2012, had long coveted a Buccaneer uniform and believed the team was interested in him as well. The Revis trade, and the surrender of the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft, made the Mississippi State star wonder if his window in Tampa had closed.
On the contrary, the Buccaneers were still very much interested in Banks, and when he somewhat surprisingly remained on the board at the 11th pick of the second round, they pounced with their highest remaining selection. Banks was a Buccaneer after all, with the added bonus of getting to start his NFL career under the wing of perhaps one of the greatest players ever at his position.
"It's an honor," said Banks of his selection by the Buccaneers. "That's where I have wanted to go forever, and it kind of hurt my feelings when they picked up Revis. But they picked me up now! It's just a blessing to get to play with those guys. I'm just stunned right now."
Banks was right to sense strong interest from the Buccaneers. The team's scouting staff was impressed with his game tape, watching him excel against the opposition's best receivers in the SEC, the most dominant level of college football. Over four seasons at Mississippi State, Banks started 45 of 51 games, including all 38 over the last three years, and finished with a school-record 16 interceptions. He also racked up 221 tackles, five forced fumbles, 26 passes defensed, 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks and was respected enough by his teammates to be chosen as a team captain.
"It was an exciting start for our night," said Dominik. "We sat at our spot at #43 and turned in a card that we were very excited. He was a captain of his football team, a very mature 23-year-old. He's the Jim Thorpe winner and he played in one of the toughest leagues, the SEC, as a starter.
Often tabbed as a potential first-round pick, Banks ran a slower-than-anticipated 40-yard-dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which he later improved upon at MSU's Pro Day. Buccaneers General Mark Dominik conceded that Banks' Combine experience probably affected his draft stock, but noted that this actually worked in the Buccaneers' favor after they spent their first-round pick on Revis. Dominik, Head Coach Greg Schiano and Tampa Bay's scouting staff were more than sold on Banks' strengths as a player, which include maturity, length, physicality, ball skills and a dedication to his craft and had him as their highest-rated player as pick #43 drew close.
"The one thing that was important for us as an organization, when the coaches watched him, when the scouts watched him, is that you never felt [a lack of speed] because he's got such good instincts, such good length and such good ball skills," said Dominik. "Are you concerned about the deep speed? No, because you love the length of the player, you love the ball skills and when he had to push and shove and run, when he needs to run and get in position, he did a great job of that."
With the additions of Revis and Banks in one six-day stretch and the aggressive signing of All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson in free agency in March, the Buccaneers have dramatically remade their secondary in 2013. The Bucs also re-signed cornerback Eric Wright, a notable 2012 free agency addition, and will be taking 2012 first-round draft pick safety Mark Barron into his second NFL season. If Wright and Banks end up as the team's starting right cornerback and primary nickel back, in some combination, that will mean that all five of the main performers in the secondary will be either high draft picks or high-profile free agency/trade acquisitions in the last 13 months. What was undeniably a weakness for the Buccaneers in 2012 could be a major strength in 2013.
The 6-2, 185-pound Banks was the first Mississippi State player ever to win an individual NCAA national award. He was an SEC All-Freshman pick in 2009, helped by a pair of interception return touchdowns against Florida's Tim Tebow. He ended up starting seven games that season at free safety before moving to cornerback and starting 12 games as a sophomore in 2010. He was an AP All-SEC second-team selection as a junior in 2011 and, after choosing to return for his senior season rather than enter the draft, he moved up to first team in 2012 as well as the Thorpe Award winner. Banks intercepted at least three passes in all four of his collegiate seasons and had at least 50 tackles in each of the last three.