Johnthan Banks: Best DB in the country?
Johnthan Banks grew up idolizing Fred Smoot.
He didn’t necessarily want to emulate the former standout Mississippi State cornerback — he wanted to play quarterback in his small town of Maben, Miss. — but he felt an energy when watching him. Starkville rocked when the Bulldogs clashed with Memphis during Banks’ youth, a game he attended and never forgot.
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From there, it’s always been Mississippi State for the 6-foot-2 corner.
“The three cornerbacks I can ever remember were Fred Smoot, Robert Bean and Deion Sanders,” said Banks, who was named to the Thorpe Award watch list as one of the top returning defensive backs in the country.
Bean and Smoot. Bulldog and Bulldog. No, there was never a question.
Banks has morphed into the category of those former Starkville standouts — both of whom were NFL Draft picks — enough, in fact, to be a regular contact between both of his idols. Bean even sent a Christmas card this past year, picturing him intercepting a pass in his No. 13 jersey.
“I can text [Smoot] right now and talk to him if I wanted to,” Banks said. “Those guys have been great. They respond to me, they talk to me, give me pointers here and there.”
Banks has taken that tutelage in stride, and his direction has always pointed up. He burst onto the scene in 2009 as a true freshman by posting back-to-back two interception games — including two off Florida legend Tim Tebow — in two of his first three games as a starter. That was quite a coronation. He’s nabbed seven more picks since then.
As a junior last season, Banks recorded 71 tackles (eight for a loss), forced three fumbles and added three sacks.
Now, much like his predecessors, he enters his senior season as a feared commodity in the Mississippi State defensive backfield. Smoot became an All-American his final year in Starkville. Banks is on the same course.
Even his quarterback, Tyler Russell, recognizes his potential, consistently trying to go after Banks in practice in order to “go against the greatest.”
“Right now, I really do feel like he’s the best in the nation,” Russell said.
This talk will not sit well on the mind of the Honey Badger — LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu — who has taken it upon himself to declare himself the best defensive player in the country on Twitter. For Mathieu to have competition to be even the best defensive back in his own division could certainly spark a wide variety of opinionated outbursts.
Mathieu is not in attendance this week at SEC Media Days.
Banks is, but he wants no part of the comparison.
“I don’t know the guy, but I’ve watched him play and he’s a good football player. He does a lot of things for his team. I respect him,” Banks said. “But I’m not gonna get into a conversation of comparing myself to another cornerback.”
Well, get used to it.
The Honey Badger became a household name in 2012.
Johnthan Banks is next.