The Indianapolis Colts are finally in off-season mode after finishing the 2019 NFL season with a record of 7-9. While the season was a bit disappointing, things could have been worse when you consider the late retirement of Andrew Luck and the injuries the team dealt with all year. Regardless, it is time to shift our focus to the off-season and consider who to add and to evaluate the talent already on the roster.
One film series we will bring to Stampede Blue this off-season is a Rookie Review series that will chronicle each of these rookies’ seasons, including a look a their statistical production. Today, we focus on rookie defensive end Ben Banogu. While it wasn’t a big splash rookie season Banogu, he did flash potential in the few games that he saw significant snaps. He finished the year with 11 total tackles, 11 hurries, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble playing in just 26% of the defensive snaps.
Weeks 1-5: Barely playing but did get his feet wet
Banogu got off to a fairly slow start to the 2019 season, but he really isn’t to blame for that. After logging 27 snaps (43% of the defensive snaps) against the Los Angeles Chargers, he only totaled 40 snaps over the next four games, including 0 defensive snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs. He totaled three tackles in those five games and came away with his first career sack in his first career game.
While Banogu doesn’t have to beat an offensive lineman on this play due to the well timed blitz by Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus, you can see his athletic gifts on full display here. He jumps out of his stance quickly and his closing speed is impressive as he finishes for the sack. Nothing to write home about but it was nice to see the rookie get on the stat sheet and his speed was impressive for a 250 pound defensive end.
His run defense early in the year was pretty solid as well as he made a couple plays when given the opportunity. Here he reads the draw play perfectly and shoots inside at the snap. He finds himself in perfect position to make the tackle for a loss on the play as he showcases his great speed and play-recognition on this excellent rep.
Weeks 7-13: Ohhhh baby we may have something here
Weeks 7-13 is when we were finally able to see the potential that Chris Ballard saw when he drafted Banogu in the second round. He still was far from a finished product but the flashes were there in these weeks. He was active, athletic, and received some playing time (somewhat due to the unfortunate injury to Kemoko Turay). He played his most snaps of the season during this stretch and the results showed on the field.
In this seven week stretch, Banogu tallied 4 tackles, 2 sacks (another one was waived off due to a phantom penalty), 7 hurries, and a forced fumble. Over this seven week span, he had a pressure percentage of 8.3% (according to PFF) which was good for 36th in the NFL. While that isn’t an elite stat line, it looked to be the beginning of a breakout for a talented and athletic edge rusher.
His best pass rush of the season was waived off due to a phantom defensive holding call in the secondary. Banogu explodes out of his wide nine stance and gets on the tackle quickly. He then dips around the corner while hooking his arm around the outside pads of the offensive tackle. This allows Banogu to quickly corner and shield off the lineman, negating a possible recovery. This leads to a sack and was the best rep of the season for Banogu, as he put all his traits together on one play. It is a shame that it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.
His first impact play that actually counted in his rookie season was the play that finished off the Denver Broncos as he delivered a huge hit on Joe Flacco to force a fumble and seal the victory. Banogu starts his rush up the field but quickly notices the quarterback stepping up in the pocket. He halts his initial rush and quickly changes direction in pursuit of the quarterback. He closes with excellent speed and quickness as he levels Flacco and wins the game for the Colts. Not a super flashy play but great awareness and athleticism to make this big play at the end of the game.
Another hustle play where Banogu gets a sack, this one happens against a much quicker quarterback in Deshaun Watson. Knowing that Watson is one of the more athletic and elusive quarterbacks in the league, Banogu doesn’t get up field and risk losing his contain like he may be able to do against other quarterbacks. Instead, he engages the offensive tackle then waits for Watson to make his move in the backfield while still trying to maintain a steady rush. As soon as Watson leaves the pocket, Banogu is able to change direction and close quickly for the sack. Again, not a great overall rush to get the sack but he showcases that closing speed that could lead to more sacks in year two.
While most of his production during this stretch did come from hustle plays and his athleticism, Banogu did flash as a pass rusher during this stretch. He is still a bit raw and struggled to finish his rushes but he did flash quick, strong hands that helped him get separation early in his pass rushing reps. Once he learns to build off of the initial move, he could be a special pass rusher.
It’s a process with young, athletic pass rushers and I’m sure Banogu himself knows that. This stretch showcased a lot of positive for the future with him though.
An underrated aspect of Banogu’s game was his run defense. While he may not be elite in this area, he was pretty solid. Here he is able to strafe down the line on the stretch play and force the play out wide so Kenny Moore II can finish the rusher off. This is an insanely athletic and strong play by Banogu and showcases how athletic and energetic he is on the football field. Those two traits usually bode very well for run defense.
Weeks 14-17: Back to the bench (I guess?)
The final four weeks to the season were very weird for Banogu. Coming off of a pretty promising seven week stretch, and the Colts elimination from playoff contention, you would think the young pass rusher would see more playing time to gain valuable experience. Instead, he didn’t receive more than 30% of the defensive snaps in a single one of those games.
In those four games, Banogu was only able to add one tackle and three hurries. It is odd that the season ended that way for Banogu after he went through a very positive mid-year stretch.
I am excited for Ben Banogu’s future in Indianapolis. He may not be as developed as an edge rusher as Kemoko Turay was as a rookie but I think he can see a similar jump in his second year. Banogu athletic and his work ethic is well documented. You can rest assured that he will be working on his craft all off-season long.
Another reason I am hopeful for his future is the departure of Defensive Line Coach Mike Phair. A source told me a few weeks back that Phair was going to be fired this off-season before he took the Panthers’ job because the team was very upset about the rotation of the defensive line in games. The Colts are expected to hire a seasoned veteran to replace Phair with a focus of developing, and actually playing, the young defensive ends in this upcoming season.
Overall, Banogu gives you an athletic, hard-working pass rusher who showed promise as a rookie. Pair that with the chance the Colts will bring in a coach who will actually play him and focus on his development in year two and you have a good recipe for a breakout in 2020.
I think the future is bright for Banogu in Indianapolis.