The Ravens are expected to have about 170 players on their big board when the NFL draft kicks off Thursday. Only a small share are first-round prospects. An even smaller share will be available at No. 22 overall. What will the Ravens do when they’re finally on the clock?

This week, The Baltimore Banner will continue to make the case for how general manager Eric DeCosta should handle the Ravens’ first-round pick, from building up their offense to bolstering their defense to moving around the draft board.

Today, we make the case for Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks.

The need

In 2021, the Ravens entered training camp with perhaps the NFL’s top cornerback duo. Then, four days before their season opener, Marcus Peters tore his ACL. The aftershocks of the injury — and Marlon Humphrey’s torn pectoral muscle, suffered later in the season — have rippled throughout the position for the past two years.

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Even with Humphrey’s return to form last season, inconsistency undercut the Ravens at cornerback. Peters started 13 games, but his game-to-game performance was erratic. Kyle Fuller tore his ACL in the season opener. Brandon Stephens was often picked on in coverage. Damarion “Pepe” Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis had rookie-year struggles. Not even safety Kyle Hamilton’s emergence in the slot could help the Ravens fix their problems out wide.

“We’re a team that always feels like you can never have enough good corners,” DeCosta said at the team’s season-ending news conference in January, and that’s especially true in the AFC North. Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are both coming off 1,000-yard seasons. Cleveland Browns wideout Amari Cooper led the division last year in receiving. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Diontae Johnson, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2021, and rising star George Pickens both had over 800 yards last year.

While Hamilton’s move to safety leaves a hole at nickelback, the Ravens’ need for a second starting outside cornerback is more urgent. According to Sports Info Solutions, Humphrey was the only rotational cornerback who produced negative expected points added when targeted in coverage last year, indicating a positive contribution to the team’s pass defense. Peters, still unsigned in free agency, allowed a career-worst 114.3 passer rating in coverage, according to Pro Football Reference.

DeCosta has been on the lookout for help this offseason. Eagles star Darius Slay said earlier this month that he “almost” became a Raven when free agency opened in March. Instead, he signed a three-year, $42 million extension with Philadelphia. DeCosta also joked at the NFL scouting combine in March that coach John Harbaugh had been “cranking” through film on this year’s cornerback class.

The draft range

Four cornerbacks are considered likely first-round picks, though a handful more could be Day 1 selections. Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon and Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, the draft’s top two cornerback prospects, are expected to be top-15 picks.

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Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr., Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes and Banks are in the class’ second tier. According to ESPN’s analytical projections, there’s about a 70% chance that Banks will be available at No. 22 overall. Porter (10%), the son of the former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker, is projected to be a top-20 pick. Forbes (90%), meanwhile, could fall out of the first round.

The schematic fit

Banks wouldn’t need much of an explainer on how the Ravens play defense. The Edgewood graduate grew up in Baltimore, visited with team officials before the draft and said at the combine that playing for the Ravens would be a “dream come true, to be honest.”

He also might have a spiritual doppelganger on the roster. ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid has said Banks compares “very favorably” to Humphrey, not only physically — both measured in at 6 foot, 197 pounds at the combine, both had elite athletic testing numbers — but also because of the “alpha” mentality he plays with. “A bully,” Reid called Banks.

He wasn’t afraid to challenge receivers in college. According to SIS, Banks lined up in press coverage — an aggressive alignment starting about a yard off the line of scrimmage, designed to disrupt a receiver’s release — on 45% of his pass defense snaps last season. Only Alabama’s Eli Ricks (53%) had a higher rate among cornerback prospects in this draft class.

Banks’ physicality could be overwhelming at times. In a November loss to Ohio State last season, he jammed Julian Fleming so thoroughly that not only did the Buckeyes wide receiver not get far past the line of scrimmage, Banks even managed to drive him back as the play unfolded, as if he were a blocking sled.

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In an October win over Indiana, Banks didn’t need to jam Indiana’s Andison Coby at the line of scrimmage to win the repetition. After funneling him down the left sideline, Banks all but ran Coby’s go route for him, squeezing him out of the picture before securing an interception.

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Banks, who missed most of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury, allowed just 258 yards and a 43.3% completion rate when targeted last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Just as impressive was his command of first-year defensive coordinator Brian Williams’ diverse mix of coverages. According to SIS, Banks allowed just seven catches on 24 targets for 66 yards in Maryland’s zone looks, a mix of single-high and two-high shells. Communicative before the snap, especially when receivers went in motion, and demonstrative after it, Banks rarely found himself in trouble.

In an October win over Michigan State, Banks almost single-handedly discouraged a deep shot with the kind of savvy required in defenses as demanding as Ravens coordinator Mike Macdonald’s. Before the snap, the Terps showed a two-high look, leaving the middle of the field open. But as one of their safeties spun down into the box, their coverage changed.

Banks shadowed his man for the first few steps of his release, then pointed his crossing route out to the underneath defenders whose zone the receiver was crossing into. After finding an unmarked receiver crossing the field in the opposite direction, into the deep third of the field Banks was guarding, he flipped his hips and quickly made up the ground. With Maryland’s deep safety offering protection over the top, Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne settled for a check-down.

Banks was less productive in man coverage last season, giving up 11 catches on 25 targets for 159 yards and two touchdowns, but his athletic pedigree suggests he has shutdown potential. He’s among the freakiest defensive back prospects to ever enter the draft, ranking in the 98th percentile among corners in the broad jump, in the 97th percentile in the vertical jump and in the 89th percentile in the 40-yard dash (4.35 seconds).

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Banks’ Relative Athletic Score, which contextualizes a player’s predraft measurables, is a perfect 10 out of 10. He has good company there: Jalen Ramsey, Jaire Alexander, James Bradberry and Darius Slay, all of whom have received multiple All-Pro honors at cornerback over the past three seasons, have an RAS above 9. Humphrey’s is a 9.46.

Even if Pro Bowls aren’t in Banks’ future, his arrival in Baltimore could offer the secondary much-needed protection in a critical area. The Ravens allowed the fourth-most completions of at least 20 air yards last season, according to TruMedia, and the league’s highest completion rate on those throws (52.8%). They were also among the league’s worst deep-ball defenses in 2021.

Banks’ elite speed projects as an effective deterrent. He allowed just three completions on 20 deep targets over his final three seasons at Maryland. In a September loss to Michigan, after Banks whiffed on a jam attempt against Roman Wilson, he did not panic. He simply turned, accelerated and caught up to the streaking wide receiver. An errant throw did Wilson no favors, but by the time the ball arrived, Banks was already back in his hip pocket.

The red flag

Banks’ matchup with Ohio State star Marvin Harrison Jr. last season offered the best glimpse into how he might fare with NFL-level wide receivers. Over about a dozen reps, there were clear highs and lows.

The highs: Banks, downgraded somewhat as a prospect because of his ball production (two career interceptions over 574 pass defense snaps), had an apparent pick after challenging the 6-4 Harrison on a jump ball and bringing in the deflection. (The play was later reviewed and ruled an incompletion.)

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Later, Banks jammed Harrison at the line of scrimmage, erasing him as an option, and helped force an incompletion after sitting on a comeback route.

The lows: Banks often found himself playing catch-up when he missed on jams or bit on fakes. Harrison opened the game with a 29-yard completion down the right sideline after Banks couldn’t match the All-American on a deep pass. He later was called for holding after essentially tackling Fleming to keep him from running by him on a double move. Banks was flagged eight times overall last season, all in coverage.

Wherever he ends up, Banks will need some polishing. He has a high ceiling as a run defender — ESPN analyst Todd McShay called him the most consistent tackler in the cornerback class — but can be too passive at times. His technique in press coverage and anticipation in off-coverage will have to improve.

Still, Banks’ tools and temperament are unique. The Ravens’ defense could use both.

“I physically impose my will on people all game,” Banks said at the combine. “I press all day, and I’m real physical. I feel like that’s what separates me.”

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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