Wed, Oct 31, 2018
Players that have a chip on their shoulder are typically the ones you never want to bet against and one prospect in this year’s class that fits that description is our Week 9 Senior-of-the-Week, TCU outside linebacker Ben Banogu, who totaled 8 tackles, 4.5 TFL, and 2 sacks in a narrow 27-26 loss to an improved Kansas Jayhawks team last Saturday in Lawrence.
Like many players, Banogu has had to overcome plenty of adversity just to reach this point in his career and it is his proven grittiness that will appeal to some scouts as much as his intriguing high-end tools.
For background purposes, Banogu was a lowly-rated two-star recruit out of high school, mainly due to a couple of serious injuries, so he signed with Louisiana-Monroe. After redshirting as a true freshman in ’14, he earned Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year the following year with 14.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks. Despite that breakthrough season, he decided to transfer to a bigger school closer to home and after getting little interest from other schools he signed with TCU, where Head Coach Gary Patterson smartly recognized his vast potential. As he did for the Warhawks, his first year on the field for the Horned Frogs resulted impressive disruptive production (16.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks)
All that leads up to this year, and more specifically, this past Saturday. It has been six years since I have made a school visit to Fort Worth so I had zero background with Banogu prior to putting on the tape over the weekend and the thing that immediately jumped out was his combination of length and fast-twitch genetics. This is a long, loose, and sudden athlete. If you can ever use those three descriptors for a player, you are usually talking about, at minimum, an eventual NFL starter. From a veteran evaluator’s perspective, it did not take long to recognize that Banogu has early-round talent.
While some scouts we have spoken with have concerns about his inconsistency, Banogu is the type of player, if you were a scout who wanted to sell him to a decision-maker, that you could make a really cool point-of-attack tape on. I say that because he is potentially capable of doing just about everything you would want from an OLB, regardless of scheme.
In Patterson’s scheme, Banogu aligns primarily as a standup LDE and his game is best suited for playing from a two-point. It is hard to gauge his growth potential without seeing him live, which our staff has yet to do at this point, but he is simply too good of a bender, mover, and space athlete to waste putting his hand in the dirt.
As a rusher, he wins with his first-step and overall athleticism. He knows how to use his hands, he can dip, bend, and turn the corner but his best attribute is his excellent cross-face quickness. His great stutter feet and body shake make him difficult for offensive tackles to pass set against and his ability to start upfield and slip back inside makes him an athletic mismatch for most edge blockers. To that point, NFL linebacker coaches are going to want to coach him because it is hard to find players with his counter tools. Coaches want to work with guys that they can throw a lot of different things at and Banogu has the physical ability to execute just about anything.
Two other important elements to his rush game are the flashes of natural power and his ability to finish at the QB. While he doesn’t always show it, Banogu does have natural pop in his body. We say that because there are times when he comes inside on twists where he shows a -six-inch punch to rock bigger people and he can sling and torque people without winding up or incorporating much of his body, like he did on the Ohio State tape we watched. Perhaps the most underrated skill for any pass rusher is his ability to disrupt the QB, whether it be getting them on the ground or simply affecting a throw, and Banogu has that knack-like quality because he is so long (33-plus arm and 80-plus wingspan) and slippery.
Projection-wise, Banogu’s best immediate fit at the next level will be as a 3-4 or-4-3 Sam but he is easily athletic and rangy enough to play Will in certain schemes. Scouts and coaches will like his ability to beat blockers on the move but two questions they will have is whether he has instincts to play off the ball and matchup in coverage, which he could help answer in Mobile. In most years, there is a high athletic ceiling defender that excels in 1-on-1 drills and boosts their draft stock at the Senior Bowl. Banogu could be that guy come January.
Drew Samia/Ben Powers
We are big believers that championship teams are built at the line-of-scrimmage. During my time with the Patriots, whenever there was a debate about which player we should draft, one wise old scout always used to chime in with, “Take the big guy!”. While Heisman candidate QB Kyler Murray and skill players like junior WR Marquise Brown get most of the headlines, the key to the Sooners’ success on offense is their super-talented and well-coached offensive line. If the Sooners’ offense continues to get the same dominant play up front that they got in last week’s 51-14 win against Kansas State, it is hard to envision them not running the table the rest of the season (vs. Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and West Virginia) and becoming the outright Big XII champs.
Last Saturday, Lincoln Riley’s club put up a season-high 702 yards and scored on its first nine possessions. Murray was 19-of-24 for 352 yards, 3 TD and 0 INT and Sooner ball-carriers ran the ball 39 times for 322 yards and 3 TD. Those yardage totals breakdown to a staggering 14.6 yards per pass attempt by Murray and 8.3 per rush for the team. In addition, Murray was not sacked and the Sooners did not turn the ball over.
Recently, after studying the Sooners’ offense, I actually reached out to Offensive Line Coach Bill Bedenbaugh to tell him how impressed I was with his group—the tape was that impressive. We got excited about Powers and Samia when we traveled to Ames and watched them against Iowa State and studying them on tape has confirmed our impressions from that live exposure. Scouts are trained to measure their words carefully so it is not hyperbole to say that this is the best college offensive line that I have studied in recent years.
While the whole unit is playing at an extremely high level, the two players that the Senior Bowl can rightfully spotlight are senior guards Drew Samia and Ben Powers. These guys move people in the run game, they stay in front of their man in pass protection, and, most importantly, they finish blocks. Finding offensive linemen that play with an attitude is getting harder and harder these days but Oklahoma’s front simply gets after people. While studying the Sooners’ offensive line as a Senior Bowl staff, we were constantly rewinding the tape to the wide copy (sideline view) because many times Powers and Samia were simply running their man off the tight copy (endzone view).
For years, the guard position was greatly undervalued in the NFL. Left tackle has long been considered a premium position because of the blindside pass protection responsibility and center will always be highly valued because of the communication and leadership demands, however, NFL teams have been paying more attention (and contract dollars) to the guard spot in recent years. Across the league, there has been an increased emphasis on securing the interior of the pocket and the only way to accomplish that is by finding two stout guards. One term scouts use to describe an offensive lineman’s ability to play big at the point-of-attack is “play square”, which speaks to a player’s ability to play with good base power and leverage and not get turned. Both Powers and Samia fit the bill in that area.
Based on my personal experience, offensive line coaches have more sway over draft decisions than any other position group in the league and there is no doubt this Oklahoma guard tandem would win over these blue-collar men with their toughness and competitiveness in Mobile.