This year’s NFL Draft is loaded with pass rushers.
Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen and Michigan’s Rashan Gary are considered top-five talents. Add in other likely first-rounders in Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, Florida’s Jachai Polite and Boston College’s Zach Allen, and this is one of the deepest classes in recent memory.
TCU’s Ben Banogu is not listed among that top-tier, but feels he will be by the end of his professional career. He views himself as the pass rusher with the most upside in this class, believing he can take great strides in polishing his technique and hand placement at the next level.
“I’m still raw in my pass rush game,” Banogu told the Star-Telegram following his NFL Combine performance.
“One of the biggest things I talked with teams about, and they agreed, is that I’m a very good athlete and was productive in a lot of phases because of my motor and being highly motivated. But I feel I can fine tune a lot of my pass rush technique.
“I think I have the highest ceiling of all the edge rushers. Guys like Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, they’re great players and very polished. For me, I’m just now getting into it and seeing where I can be in five years. In five years, I feel I can be a top five, top three pass rusher.”
Not just from this year’s draft class, either. In the league.
“I think the upside for this class is really big, best crop for the decade honestly,” said Banogu, who had 17 sacks and 34 1/2 tackles for loss in two seasons at TCU.
“If I’m the best in this class, the way I see it, I’m going to be the best in this league.”
He certainly showcased his athleticism at the Combine. He set a record for defensive linemen with a broad jump at 11 feet, 2 inches. He posted the fastest 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash at 1.47 seconds, and had the best vertical jump at 40 inches.
Banogu’s 4.62-second 40-yard dash ranked sixth-best among edge rushers, and he repped the 225-pound bench press 23 times. He also ranked in the Top 10 on three-cone drill (7.02 seconds) and short shuttle (4.27 seconds).
He checked in at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds.
“I expected to go out there and do well,” said Banogu, who trained for the Combine at EXOS in San Diego. “For my jumps, I could already jump pretty far and had confidence in myself to put up those numbers. I am surprised I broke the record. I’m more grateful than anything, and it’s nice to see all the work I’ve put in paid off.”
Banogu remains open as far as his position at the next level. Some teams view him as a pass rusher, while others project him more as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Banogu handled himself well when he worked out with the linebacker group at the Senior Bowl.
“I see Banogu as an intriguing nickel rusher,” said Dane Brugler, NFL Draft analyst for The Athletic. “His lack of a power move and struggles vs. the run might keep him from being an every-down player, but his athleticism is a selling point. He has a loose lower body and first step quickness, but his best trait on tape was his chase speed to close the gap in pursuit.
“He helped himself in Indianapolis, no question.”
Banogu knows it’ll be a process for him to reach the level he desires. He is a developmental prospect who doesn’t have any delusions of entering the NFL as a Day 1 starter. And he’s OK with that.
The NFL has seen several later-round picks become among the best pass rushers in league history. Jared Allen, who had 136 career sacks, was a fourth-round pick. Hall of Famers Kevin Greene (fifth round) and Richard Dent (eighth round) were late-round gems in their respective classes.
For Banogu, it’s about developing and embracing whatever situation he may find himself in.
“There’s nothing bad about being a backup in the NFL,” Banogu said. “If you’re drafted by the Chicago Bears, then you’re learning under Khalil Mack and get to a shadow one of the best.”
Or how about his hometown Dallas Cowboys and DeMarcus Lawrence? Banogu said he had a formal interview with the Cowboys at the Senior Bowl, and had an informal chat with one of their scouts at the Combine.
“It really just depends what the Cowboys want,” said Banogu, a Prosper product. “I’m a hometown kid, so I wouldn’t mind playing for the Dallas Cowboys with a star on my helmet.”
But Banogu isn’t getting too caught up in that stuff. He’s enjoyed every meeting with respective teams, and feels he could fit in well with multiple organizations.
For now, his focus shifts to TCU’s Pro Day on March 29. Given his strong Combine numbers, Banogu doesn’t expect to re-do tests such as the 40-yard dash or broad jump later this month. Instead, he’ll be ready to do whatever on-field workouts particular teams ask him to do.
Outside of that, Banogu is eager to let the rest of the process take care of itself and see where he lands in the NFL Draft from April 25-27.
“I really don’t look into mock drafts and all that stuff,” Banogu said. “The way I look at it is let God take care of all that stuff. At the end of the day, teams are going to pick who they want to pick. On draft day, anything can happen.
“I just need to make sure I’m taking care of my own business and just hope I fall into a great system with great coaches. I loved all of the ones I’ve talked to, loved what they stood for, and could see myself playing in those systems. I’m just grateful to experience what I’ve experienced the last couple of months.”