Ohio State's defensive backfield is in need of its next star.
After finishing toward the bottom of the national rankings, fixing the pass defense is Kerry Coombs' top offseason priority. We've hit on them before, but a myriad of factors led to the performance that we saw in 2020. With a new quarterback under center, the Buckeye offense is going to need some help if the program wants to reach the playoff for the fifth time.
It's been a while since Ohio State came into a season without a big superstar-type of name in the secondary. Eli Apple and Vonn Bell were new starters in 2014 with Doran Grant serving as the more veteran presence. The duo then helped to anchor the 2015 defensive backfield along with Gareon Conley and Tyvis Powell.
The 2016 season saw a sudden surge from Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker. And ever since that time, it's been one first-rounder after another with Denzel Ward, Jeffrey Okudah, and Damon Arnette all cycling through the secondary. Shaun Wade came into 2020 with all kinds of hype and looked like the next big thing. He had his struggles despite being named a consensus All-American and is expected to be drafted in the middle rounds.
Wade's departure means that Kerry Coombs' defensive backfield is going to need that leadership and veteran presence to come from someone else. And while he may be one of the least-talked-about corners in recent memory, Sevyn Banks has a chance to become the next big thing in the Buckeye secondary.
Ohio State signed 26 players for the Class of 2018. Guys like Taron Vincent and Nicholas Petit-Frere were the headliners for an Urban Meyer haul that ranked second nationally behind only Georgia. Banks came to Ohio State as a four-star who was listed as the country's No. 221 overall prospect. Only six signees from that 2018 class had a lower ranking than the Orlando corner; one of those being Chris Olave.
As a true freshman, his biggest moment came during the 62-39 drubbing of Michigan. Banks scooped up the ball after an Olave blocked punt and returned it 33 yards for a score. His sophomore campaign saw him take 170 snaps while playing behind Okudah, Arnette, and Wade. At the time, Banks was a rotational player along with Cameron Brown and Amir Riep.
A new starter in 2020, Banks took his lumps from time to time, but his overall play was pretty solid. Most eyes were on Wade and the early problems at safety as the Buckeye secondary struggled during the abbreviated season, but Banks certainly flashed his own potential at times. In his first year of full-time action, he saw more snaps than anyone on the Ohio State defense outside of Wade and Pete Werner.
Slot fade is tough. A lot of space between the receiver and the sideline. I prefer my cbs to play it like Sevyn Banks did here. Chest to chest. Look through the receiver. This makes it very difficult for the receiver to fade away from you. Cant create that separation. pic.twitter.com/p0rW584uXy— Crocky (@eric_crocker) November 21, 2020
There were other plays that left folks scratching their heads. But we've seen those moments before from some of the all-time great Buckeye corners; at least in the early portion of their careers. On Clemson's first drive of the Sugar Bowl, Banks was manned up with a physical receiver in Cornell Powell. He actually had great coverage when Trevor Lawrence delivered a 27-yard sideline strike to set up the Tigers' opening score. Sometimes you just have to give credit to the receiver (and a little bit of a push-off).
He may not have elite top-end speed, but Banks has flashed some big-play ability in the secondary. In addition to the 2018 punt return score against the Wolverines, he had a 55-yard scoop and score against Nebraska last October. He'll also be able to tell people that he picked off Lawrence on his last collegiate pass attempt. Heading into the 2021 season, Banks's two touchdowns match the combined total for Ryan Day's young quarterback room.
Kerry Coombs is welcoming in six new defensive backs for the 2021 class. In addition to his play on the field, Banks will be in a position to serve as a mentor for youngsters like Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson; much like Okudah and Arnette helped to mentor him when he first arrived in Columbus.
We're not going to hear a lot of the preseason draft buzz like we did for Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade; especially not after the unit's struggles in 2020. But Sevyn Banks has the chance to take his game to another level as the veteran presence in the Buckeye secondary.