INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts' defensive rebuild was ahead of schedule by the end of the 2018 season, and they are now taking steps to move it to the next level in the 2019 NFL Draft.
After selecting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin with their first pick at No. 34, the Colts then drafted TCU edge defender Ben Banogu with the 49th overall pick in the second round. However, he may not be considered an edge defender for long.
Banogu has been listed as a linebacker by the Colts, and both he and Colts general manager provided some context as to why that is on Friday night.
"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."
Banogu's ability to line up in different spots and perform different tasks is potentially a huge weapon for coordinator Matt Eberflus' defense.
"Well as far as linebacker goes, the coaches – we had meetings and everything through the Senior Bowl process, the combine and pro day," Banogu said. "They have been talking about playing everywhere in the front seven from linebacker to rushing on pass downs. Just trying to maximize my athleticism."
Using the 6-3, 250-pound Banogu at linebacker makes perfect sense.
While he has great speed, athleticism and short-area quickness, he does have some areas to work on that become less of an issue at linebacker as opposed to defensive end.
Banogu occasionally had trouble freeing himself from blocks, but by standing him up off the ball and putting him in space, it helps give him time to engage the blocker rather than getting in immediate contact.
He also really likes to start on the edge and cut inside to find a path to the quarterback. While it works much of the time, sometimes it gets him right into the throws of a double-team. If he's standing up off the ball, it again gives him more time to develop a plan of attack and will allow him to get through the lane quicker.
Standing up more often than being in a three-point stance shouldn't be an issue if that is the plan, as Banogu has experience in several different spots in the Horned Frogs' defense and stood up quite a bit.
Part of what allows Banogu to wear so many different hats is his supreme athleticism. He tested at an elite level at the Combine, his 40-yard dash (4.62), vertical (40") and broad jumps (134"), three-cone (7.02) and short shuttle (4.27) all ranking in the 80th percentile or better among edge defenders. His 40, vertical and broad jumps averaged better than the 95th percentile.
Although Banogu knows he's probably going to be used as a chess piece for Eberflus around the defense, one task will always hold a special place in his heart.
"For me, I love to get after the passer. I love getting sacks and setting the edge and rushing. That's an awesome part of the game and that's why I played. Doing some of the linebacker stuff at the Senior Bowl really opened my eyes to all the neat ways that you can kind of create plays and turnovers for your team," Banogu said.
"I am just really excited to show them what I can do within the front seven," he continued. "I am confident in myself and I am just glad that they are confident in me to give me the opportunity to go out and showcase that."