In the 2019 NFL Draft, Chris Ballard made it quite clear that there are two attributes the Colts scouting department values most; elite athleticism and character to fit the team’s locker room chemistry. Earlier this week, we talked about how Indy’s first pick in the draft, Rock Ya-Sin has the intangibles the team covets.
With his second pick in the draft, Chris Ballard drafted TCU edge defender Ben Banogu. While it wasn’t overly surprising to see Ballard pick a player like Banogu, as he carries the same potential as Kemoko Turay did last year, most were likely surprised that he would be selected so early.
Widely considered a project player without a true position, there is little doubt that Banogu will offer Matt Eberflus a lot by way of flexibility. Will that translate into high-level production at any one position? This is the question that likely gave a lot of talent evaluators the greatest pause.
What would give Ballard and his scouting room the confidence to pull the trigger on a player like Banogu this early in the draft?
Sure, you can start answering that question by pointing out that Banogu set an NFL Combine record with a 11’2” broad jump, the longest ever by a defensive lineman. You can point out that he had the sixth fastest 40-yard dash among edge defenders at 4.62 seconds, finished ninth with 23 bench reps, had the highest vertical jump at 40”, finished seventh in the 3-cone drill (.01 second slower than coveted rusher Brian Burns) and fourth in the 20-yard shuttle (faster than coveted rusher Montez Sweat).
Still, there were certainly better athletes at his position available in the draft. There were also arguably much better positional fits who wouldn’t carry as many questions about role in the NFL.
One of the biggest reasons Chris Ballard had such a great deal of confidence in Banogu’s ability to be an impact player in the Colts defense is his football IQ. Stampede Blue’s Zach Hicks broke down how you can identify this trait on a film review earlier this week.
One of the biggest things that jumps off of the page about Banogu on film is that he is incredibly efficient at diagnosing plays and identifying misdirection. Coupling that ability with this athleticism makes him valuable on the field, in the film room, and projects well for his ability to help lead on the field.
In his post-draft press conference Chris Ballard had the following comments on how they evaluate Banogu and the kind of potential his brings with him to the Colts:
“Look Ben is an intriguing athlete. We will probably start him out at SAM, but saying that we also think he has got a lot of rush to him. I hate comparing names but when Jamie Collins came out of Southern Miss, I saw the same type of athletic talent and I think when you watch the Senior Bowl – I mean he did some impressive things, now,” Ballard told reporters.
“They line him up at outside backer and rushed him, they rushed him from the three-technique, they played him at SAM, they played him at MIKE some,” Ballard continued. “We think he has got a lot of versatility and his speed and athleticism and ability to run down quarterbacks is important in this league. We think he is going to be great on our turf.”
The part that adds to all of this is the confidence one would easily get in Banogu’s ability to work, learn, and develop if they knew more about where he comes from and the kind of character brings to his team and the work ethic he brings into his preparation. He is a player who has overcome adversity, moved up from lower levels of competition — starting at Lousiana-Monroe, and took a chance on himself by moving up to TCU.
Banogu didn’t play football until seventh grade, missed a year of high school football with a bone fracture, and didn’t move to defensive end until he was a senior. Clearly, he took to that position very quickly. A former quarterback, Banogu had to put on a considerable amount of weight and dedicate himself to changing his body.
He notes that people have given him reasons that he won’t be able to make it to the NFL throughout his career. Some have said that he is too small or too slow and he uses those comments as fuel to get better. He notes that it is a big concentration for him to not just become better but to help makes his teammates better.
Perhaps the best way to share a bit about who Banogu is to share videos where he has a chance to speak for himself. This is a young man who understands what it takes to outwork everyone else in order to get where you want to go and who I have little doubt will do whatever it takes to make an impact in Indianapolis.
It is clear that Banogu is the type of player who exhibits the mental toughness to handle adversity and overcome obstacles to win football games in a grueling NFL season. He is the type of player who will always have his teammates’ backs and will value and appreciate the hard work that people around him put into their craft. Putting a young man like him into a locker room full of other players with the same kind of work ethic is an exciting prospect.
It is no wonder why Chris Ballard thought so much of him to pull the trigger earlier than others.