For only the second time in almost two decades, the Giants traded up in the first round of the NFL Draft in order to land their preferred target.
General manager Joe Schoen traded the No. 25 pick, along with Nos. 160 and 240, to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for the 24th overall selection and the chance to draft Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks.
Since the conclusion of the draft, many NFL experts have commended the fit between Banks and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's scheme. It's no secret that Martindale loves to blitz, which often leaves his cornerbacks in 1-on-1 situations on the outside. Accordingly, the 22-year-old corner from Baltimore was widely considered one of the top press corners in this year's draft class.
Maryland head coach Mike Locksley recently joined the Giants Huddle podcast to discuss why Banks is such a strong fit in the Giants' defense.
"I think it starts with his size," Locksley said about the 6-foot-2, 205-pound corner. "When you look at the receivers that are really having a lot of success in the NFL, there are a lot of big guys that are outside on that island. Typically tall, long athletic guys, struggle to play on that island. But Deonte is one of those guys that has the length that you like, whether it's the arm length, the height, but he also has the feet and the ability to play like a little guy. And so to me, the athleticism, the ability to play man cover, and I think probably his biggest trait or skill set trait that I've always really been most impressed with is his ability to forget a bad play.
"As you know, you're going to have balls caught on you, you will get beat as a corner. You have to understand that. But it's the ability to get back up on that horse again, and the next play, understand that you've got to let the last play die or it could affect this next one. And he has an innate ability that even when he does maybe give up a play, it doesn't linger and he doesn't lose confidence. Nor does he lose the ability to get right back in front of a guy that has talent and know that he has the ability to run with, stick with, and then the ball skills necessary."
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Banks was limited to just two games during the 2021 campaign due to a serious shoulder injury. But the talented cornerback was able to bounce back for the Terrapins this past season when he started 12 games and recorded a career-best eight passes defensed.
Perhaps his strongest game of the season came late in the year against No. 2 Ohio State. Banks helped limit high-profile receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. to just five receptions for 68 yards. It was one of the lowest yardage totals of the season for Harrison, and just the fifth game (of 13) in which he was held out of the end zone. Banks tallied two pass breakups in this contest and blocked an extra point (which his teammate returned for two points).
Although some corners might shy away from a matchup against a player such as Harrison Jr., Locksley said Banks welcomes the challenge.
"I'm an offensive guy and I've had some great receivers that I know put the fear of God into DBs at times because they read the press clippings, they watch him on tape and they may play tentative," the Maryland head coach said. "I mean, this kid will get in front of anybody no matter what name is across the front or back of the jersey. And as I've used the analogy, he's just dumb enough to not even really care, if he's going up against Odell Beckham or whoever the top guys are in that league. He does not care about names. He doesn't care about their reputation. It's like, he's not worried or fazed by who he's going against because he has that much confidence in his ability to play out on the island."
Unlike some of his counterparts in this year's draft, Banks was thrown into the fire as soon as he got to Maryland. As a true freshman in 2019, he played in 11 contests and started the final eight games of the season, when he registered 28 tackles (22 solo), and interception and two passes defensed. The following season, he appeared in all five games (three starts).
Some players might get overwhelmed by the opportunity to see significant playing time so early on in their collegiate career, but Banks embraced it. He saw it as a chance to start taking the necessary steps to help better himself and his game in every way he could.
"It wasn't as if he, you know, had time to, to grow and learn under some of the older players because, you know, he got here at a time where there was a coaching change, a transition, a lot of moving pieces and parts," Locksley said. "And from day one, he was a starter for us. I think the biggest area where I've seen him improve the most is just, you know, we talk about being a pro and a lot of guys wait until they're in the NFL until they understand the importance of sleep, hydration, recovery, eating the right way nutritionally.
"Deonte has been one of those guys that embraced that lifestyle very early because of the desire he had to want to be the best. And it's really paid off for him. So, the biggest area where I saw him really grow is just continuing to do the necessary things to put himself in position from a physical standpoint to be available to play."
While the Giants seem to know and like what they are getting in Deonte Banks the player, what about when he steps off the field?
"The interesting thing is I've spent the last three days sitting and doing end of year evaluations with current players, and one of the things that I've used as an analogy for our current players is not one time did I have to deal with Deonte Banks [for] anything off the field," said the Maryland coach. "Going to class, living the right way, the right kind of lifestyle off the field, leadership in the locker room. And here's a kid that's getting drafted in the first round, 24th pick, and he's down in study hall two days ago working on finishing his degree because he's going to graduate in the next two weeks here. When most guys trick off their Spring semester, have six hours, 12 hours to finish and they wait, wait, wait until their career is done to finish it. I mean, that's who Deonte is, and so he'll be a great locker room addition."
View the top photos of Deonte Banks' career at Maryland.
Giants fans may have noticed a timid, soft-spoken rookie during Banks' post-draft media sessions. However, Locksley warned not to judge a book by its cover.
"You know, he's a man of very few words…" said Banks' former coach. "But if you catch him in the locker room, he's the life of the party, the life of the locker room. He's goofy as all get-out, and it's a good trait to have because he has been a great teammate here and played a major, major role in the resurgence of what Maryland has been able to do the last couple of years."
Locksley and Giants coach Brian Daboll have plenty of familiarity with each other. In Daboll's one season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama, Locksley served as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. The two helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship, and when Daboll left for Buffalo the following season, Locksley took over as offensive coordinator.
The shared history between the two coaches led to an increased comfort level in Banks fitting in with the Giants and Daboll's coaching philosophy.
"Now, the fact that Dabs and I have a relationship obviously allows the information flow to be truthful and honest because I want to see Brian Daboll have success," Locksley said. "And the last thing I would want to do is put a player in a position that can't come up there and help him reach the goals of winning the Super Bowl. So, being in a professional way, I have, I think, the reputation of knowing one, that if they're in my program, they're most likely going to be good kids because if they're not, they're not going to be around here. And so I think Dabs appreciates that. But he also knows that the same system and the way he kind of does things is how I was brought up in this business, and that the players that come out of Maryland will be smart, tough, and reliable. And that's what you guys want if you're going to put the type of money that they're putting into some of these players."
Since taking over as head coach at Maryland in 2019, Locksley has faced off against Minnesota on three separate occasions. The Golden Gophers won two of the three matchups and scored a total of 130 points. The Minnesota offense did a tremendous amount of damage running the ball, as they totaled an incredible 932 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground across the three contests while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
The Terrapins coach has seen first-hand what Giants rookie center John Michael Schmitz can do for an offense and an offensive line, and believes the second-round pick is a perfect fit for Daboll's system.
"A low-center-of-gravity guy," Locksley said about Schmitz. "Knowing how Dabs loves to run the football, he always talks about power and controlling the 'A' and 'B' gaps, and you know, this guy is one of the best in the country at the run game stuff. The way Minnesota ran the ball and the success they've had, a lot of it ran through him, through this guy and his ability. So you're getting, you know the Big Ten, when you want O-linemen, you look to the Big Ten. This league has had a lot of really talented O-linemen come out of it, and the kid you guys drafted is one of the best that had been in there the last couple of years since I've been back in the league."
Get your first look at the newest Giants as they hit the practice field at rookie minicamp.