As the NFL season comes to a close this Superbowl Sunday, The Jug will be looking back at how Wildcat alumni fared in the 2012 season. For our second installment, we visit 2010 a graduate who made his way the hard way, Washington Redskins receiver and return specialist Brandon Banks.
A diminutive transfer from Bakersfield Junior College, in just two years with the Wildcats Brandon Banks hauled in 123 receptions for 1,754 yards (14.3 average) and ten touchdowns. Yet standing at 5’7″ and weighing a meager 149 pounds, Banks failed to get a sniff from NFL teams and went undrafted after finishing his time at K-State. However, Washington gave him a chance as an undrafted free agent and Banks secured a roster spot by returning a punt return in his first preseason game 77 yards for a touchdown. Fumble issues led to his release a month later but the Redskins picked him up again and placed Banks on the practice squad three days later. He would go on to have great success his rookie year, but in February 2011 Banks was stabbed outside of a nightclub in D.C. and suffered a slow start to his sophomore year.
During the 2012 offseason, head coach Mike Shanahan announced his intention to get Banks more involved in the passing game, but the opportunities never materialized as Banks caught eight passes for only 15 yards. He also received seven rushing opportunities while gaining 36 yards. His numbers would have likely been much greater, but Banks once again demonstrated difficulty holding onto the ball and fumbled one of his catches leading to less playing time. He was also only able to participate in 13 games this season due to a hip injury that limited his cutting ability.
Banks remains a solid kick returner – a spot where his tacklers don’t literally weigh double his body mass. He accumulated 527 yards on 22 returns, good enough for 24 yards/return with a long of 55. However, his effectiveness as a punt returner took a step back from the potential he flashed during his first two years. Banks only averaged 6.8 yards/punt return in 2012 after averaging 9.1 in 2011 and 11.3 in 2010. Just as unsettling, he was unable to escape the fumble issues that have always haunted him as he fumbled three punt returns this year.
Banks is an extremely explosive player that few – if any – defenders are capable of catching in the open field. However, his small size – smallest player in the NFL for three straight years – makes durability and strength concerns a real issue. It is unknown whether he will return to the Redskins for a fourth year, although an opportunity to change scenery and work with a coach better known for youth development than Mike Shanahan could provide the break he needs to take an active role on an offense (remember, Darren Sproles languished on the Chargers’ bench for years as a return specialist before moving to New Orleans and becoming a Pro Bowl player).