Ben Banogu knows how disastrous a quarterback sack is to an offense.
How the best-laid plans can go up in flames in an instant, how one big hit can slice the head off the snake and send shockwaves through the entire unit. Of all the defensive prospects in this year’s NFL Draft, Banogu may have the most appreciation for how harassing the quarterback changes the complexion of a game. Because for several years, he was one.
“I always wanted to be the next Michael Vick or the next Tom Brady,” Banogu says. “I was a good quarterback, but I wasn’t the best quarterback out there. So being able to sack the quarterback gave me a sense of fulfillment.”
Banogu did a lot of that at TCU, tallying 17 sacks over his final two college seasons to go along with 34.5 tackles for loss. After a freakish showing at the 2019 NFL Combine, his draft stock is now skyrocketing. Based on Banogu’s measurables, workout metrics and college production, PlayerProfiler.com lists his best pro comparable as Khalil Mack. You know, the Chicago Bears’ All-Pro who might as well be a human hand grenade to offensive schemes? The guy who’s all but destined to wind up with a bust in Canton? Yeah, that Khalil Mack.
Banogu’s football destiny went from directing offenses to destructing them when a kid named Davis Webb transferred to Prosper (Texas) High School. Webb, who went on to star for Cal and currently plays for the New York Giants, was an immensely talented quarterback who quickly claimed the team’s starting gig. Banogu’s coaches, realizing it would be foolish to have one of their best athletes sitting on the bench, soon deployed him at defensive end.
“(My) coach just moved me to that spot and he just thought I would be a great player at that spot,” Banogu says. “(Being) more of a team player I figured if he moved me to defensive end, then I might as well be the best at it.”
His dynamite explosiveness and rangy frame made him a natural fit for the position, and he was quickly terrorizing quarterbacks and lassoing running backs. But a snapped femur during his sophomore year hit pause on his development at the position. Banogu had earlier suffered a broken arm during his freshman year, and with this second injury, his mother, Ugochi, became convinced he should give up the violent sport.
“She basically told me she didn’t want me to play football anymore. That was kind of the tipping point for me. I told myself I wouldn’t do something if I didn’t love it. I kind of fell in love with football and fell in love with the process of healing up and doing the rehab and getting back on the field,” Banogu says.
He missed his entire junior season rehabbing the injury, then returned with a vengeance his senior year, racking up 10.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss en route to third-team All-State honors. But his rise came too late to earn serious interest from the big boys of college football. The University of Louisiana at Monroe ended up being the only FBS school to extend an offer. Banogu graciously accepted it, but couldn’t shake the feeling he could compete on a bigger stage.
After redshirting his first season at ULM, he totaled 45 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and five sacks as a redshirt freshman. Still believing he had what it took to play for a powerhouse, he vetted his transfer options. TCU extended an offer, and Banogu jumped at the opportunity to return to his home state and play for a perennial Big 12 title contender.
“I always knew I wanted to play at higher level. I always knew I wanted to play at a Power Five school. And the offer from TCU gave me that opportunity. Never visited, never stepped foot on campus. Didn’t really know too much about Texas Christian University but I got the call and ran with it and it paid off for me,” Banogu says. Forced to sit out a season due to transfer rules, Banogu spent his first year in Forth Worth getting in stellar shape.
“Being at TCU gave me that competitive edge of I want to get stronger and faster and move better than everybody else,” Banogu says. “Losing the baby fat, getting in the weight room, getting more cut, more lean—lost 20 pounds. It wasn’t (all) bad weight, but just for the scheme and what I had to do at TCU, (I) lose that weight and filled out my upper and lower body.”
A chiseled Banogu earned a starting gig ahead of the next season and quickly proved to be a key cog on a stingy Horned Frogs’ defense that conceded a mere 19 points per game. He led the team with 16.5 tackles for loss while also tallying 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. For his efforts, Banogu earned first-team All-Big 12 and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors. In one season at TCU, the twitchy edge defender put enough on tape to be an NFL draft pick.
However, Banogu elected to return for his redshirt senior year. At that point, he’d played only two college seasons, and he felt he was just scratching the surface of his full potential. He shifted his class schedule around so he could spend more time watching film, and he worked to improve his arsenal of pass-rush weapons. While watching tape of Von Miller, he honed in on a “double swipe” move the Denver Broncos star deploys with lethal effectiveness, and began integrating it into his own game.
“I want to get to the point where people talk about me in the same breath as Von Miller. He’s a guy I’ve been watching ever since he played at Texas A&M, and I’ve always aspired to be like him,” Banogu says. “He kinda fits my style of play. He’s more of a speed guy, he uses his hands, he has great lean, they talk about his cat-like quickness.”
Prior to last season, Banogu was tabbed as the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. To help relieve anxiety before games, he picked up a unique habit—juggling. “We would travel to away games, and being in hotels you kinda think about the game a lot,” Banogu says. “So I picked up juggling to keep my mind off things and I actually got pretty good at it to the point where I could juggle for five to 10 minutes straight. That kinda helped me get my mind off the game and put me in a space where I could just chill and not feel the anxiety of playing in a big game.”
The hobby, paired with a pre-game meal of spaghetti and a heavy rotation of Kodak Black in his headphones, helped Banogu get his mind right. He again earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors last season after tallying 18.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. His 60 QB pressures were far and away the most by any Big 12 edge defender.
STACK caught up with Banogu at EXOS in Carlsbad, California, where he was preparing for the NFL Combine. He knew the event was going to be critical for him, as NFL scouts wanted to see numbers that matched the springy athleticism he displayed on tape.
“I say I’m a fast guy, I say that I’m explosive, and I say I can do just about anything in the front seven. And I want to be able to prove that and show that,” Banogu said ahead of the Combine. “Whether that’s running fast or jumping high or doing good in cone drills, I just want to show them that everything I’ve done throughout my time in college is put on a platform for them to see.”
Banogu did that and then some. Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, his 40-inch Vertical Jump and 11-foot-2 Broad Jump were stunning displays of explosiveness for a man his size, with the later ranking as an all-time combine record for defensive linemen. He also notched a blazing 4.62 40-Yard Dash and a 4.27 20-Yard Shuttle, solidifying a performance that would have NFL personnel buzzing.
The biggest knock on Banogu is a lack of refinement and variety in his pass rushing techniques. Banogu’s aware of the critique, and he’s eager to improve that facet of his game. “I try not to listen to the positive things people say about me. I really take the negative things to heart. I’ve gotten that I’m too slow, that I’m not big enough, that I’m not strong enough, and I just use that to fuel me,” Banogu says. “If you can take away one more thing that people say about you and turn it into a positive, then you’re getting better every day. And that’s kinda what motivates me.”
If there’s one thing he appreciates the importance of, its perseverance. “People quit on themselves before the good things start happening for them,” Banogu says. “There’s always someone that’s right across the street or halfway across the nation that’s working just as hard as you. And thinking if they should quit, too. At the end of the day, it’s who’s gonna quit first? If you quit before the next person, you’re selling yourself short.”
Photo Credit: Matthew Pearce/Getty Images, Andrew Dieb/Getty Images