2019 NFL Draft Ben Banogu
Photo Credit: USA Today

Ben Banogu knows what it’s like to fly under the radar. In the 2019 NFL Draft, he may be one of those players who ends up being a draft day steal.

Imagine having just spent the last three hours chasing around running backs and quarterbacks in the pass-happy Big 12. Now imagine, you turn on the game film to see how you did. As you watch, you can’t understand why it isn’t translating. You feel like you’re like watching in French, or Portuguese or some other language you don’t speak.

That’s what it feels like when you know you have the size and athleticism to be an absolute monster at the next level, but don’t have the production to show for it. That’s what it’s like when you are teaching yourself pass rushing technique. It’s like teaching yourself a brand new language.

For what it’s worth, Ben Banogu of TCU isn’t the type of player who makes excuses. He knows what the problem is. His technique is unrefined. It’s something he has never really been taught. He’ll be the first to tell you that it doesn’t matter how big and fast you are if you’re technique is sloppy, it just doesn’t matter.

For Banogu, it’s been the journey and the challenge.

At least that’s what he told me when we spoke just before the combine. It was then I learned Banogu had only played one season of varsity high school football, followed by a season at the pretty small Louisiana-Monroe. From there he joined the scheme dominant TCU Horned Frogs. At no point did Banogu play in a spot where he was able to develop as a pass rusher.

Banogu is quick to point out that this isn’t a knock on those schools. TCU, he said, was a blessing to play for. It was a chance to really push himself against top-notch competition, which is why he left Louisiana Monroe after just one season. Despite the lack of individual coaching, he was productive at TCU, producing 8.5 sacks each of his two seasons as a starter.

Better competition is what he found. In fact, this past season he faced the projected top two quarterbacks of this upcoming draft, Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray. Last season he went up against the former Heisman Trophy winner and eventual number one overall pick twice in Baker Mayfield, sacking him once.

However, playing at TCU does come at an individual cost. Playing there means you are simply playing the scheme, no freelancing. Work in practice is all about scheme work. A quick view of Banogu’s tape will show you that. He was either the looper on an E-T (End-Tackle) stunt, or playing outside contain with the option to rush. There isn’t much opportunity to showcase pass-rushing prowess.

More than that, it wasn’t something being worked on with players by the coaching staff.

The view from the EDGE.

One of the things that impressed me the most in my conversation with Ben was when he was describing to me the process by which he prepares for a game and how he’s taught himself the little he knows. I asked him to take me through his mindset from the moment the ball is marked ready to play on a sure pass rushing snap. Here is what he said:

The ball is placed and ready for play.

The offensive tackle has set in his stance.

Where is he leaning? Is he light, looking to get back into pass protection? Is he heavy in his front side, looking to move me in the run game? Where are his hands resting?

The ball is snapped.

The tackle gets back with his kick step.

Hands are below his hips. His kick-step is having him drift outside and he’s vertical in his set. My first step takes my eyes to his hands. When they’re below his hips, I have to get wrist control. He’s drifting outside, so I can set up with a jab step out and come back in. Grabs his wrists, rip him down (“Double Swipe”), shoot inside, get the sack. Win.

Not bad for someone self-taught. That double swipe move, by the way, was something he taught himself when he independently reviewed film of Von Miller’s 18.5 sack season when he saw him do it a few times.

Being underestimated is his driving force heading to the 2019 NFL Draft.

Other than that double swipe move, there isn’t much else in the bag of tricks. Banogu doesn’t shy away from that reality. Rather, he is driven by it. Ben is determined to prove to coaches that not only does he have the measurables but he is a willing learner. He believes he has the highest ceiling in this draft. Based on what he showed at the Senior Bowl, he may not be wrong.

Coaches played him at 3, the 5 and even some off-ball linebacker. These were things he had never done before. He did so well, one coach proclaimed all he would need is one fall camp to turn Banogu into a quality off-ball linebacker.

The natural gifts are there. Of that, there is no question. At the combine, Banogu broke the record for longest broad jump by a defensive lineman (134”) and finished in the 80th percentile or higher in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, three-cone, and short shuttle. His 40-yard dash time was even more impressive when you consider only Brian Burns of Florida State had a better 10-yard burst.

I came away from my conversation with Banogu impressed with several things. Among them, his self-awareness and self-determination to get better.

Banogu is right when he proclaims he may have the highest ceiling of any player in the 2019 NFL Draft. Personally, his measurables are very comparable to Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears. Chicago could be a great fit for him, and working alongside Mack would be a tremendous learning experience for a raw talent.

Whoever gets him in the draft will be getting a hard worker and willing student of the game. When that is your attitude, the sky’s the limit.