The Washington Redskins roster this preseason was the deepest it has ever been in recent years. With the new depth, especially at wide receiver, Brandon Banks found himself fighting for his life to stay on the team. Mike Shanahan challenged Banks to be more than just a punt returner. Banks knew he had to play his best preseason football in order to make the Redskins 53.
Banks' last preseason game can sum up why the pros of keeping Banks outweigh the cons. In his last preseason game, he averaged 13.2 yards on punt returns and had both a 47-yard catch and a 43-yard run.
Even Banks didn't know if it was enough to keep him on the team. Mark Maske of the Washington Post quoted Banks after the last preseason game,
“I think I put enough on film that I’ll still have a job somewhere—if not here, somewhere else.”
That last part "if not here, somewhere else" is one of the main reasons the Redskins couldn't let Banks go. While the Redskins questioned if they could afford to keep Banks as a special teams player, other teams such as the NY Giants, could have found room on their roster for Banks.
While Banks' preseason wasn't perfect, he accepted Shanahan's challenge and won the battle at wide receiver over the likes of Anthony Armstrong and Terrence Austin.
Here are four reasons the Redskins decided to hold onto Banks and why they were right in doing so.
Brandon Banks is an energetic player. A fan never knows what to expect from him. Banks has proven he can return kicks for touchdowns, be a threat a deep WR option or even being the one throwing the ball to wide receivers.
This preseason, Banks excited the fans by being an underdog. Everyone knew what he could do on special teams, but every time he took the field at wide receiver, fans couldn't help but want to cheer for him knowing he could potentially change the game on every snap.
When Banks gets the ball, you never know where he will end up. In close games, he also gives fans hope that he is only one kick return away from scoring a touchdown. Banks has been a consistently good special teams player on a team where everything else has been inconsistent.
This year, adding Banks as a receiver option will only add to fan excitement.
Banks is too good to not play in the NFL. He is one of the fastest and smallest players in the NFL. There is no denying that the role of special teams, specifically kick returns, has changed this year. With moving up the kickoff, there will be a significant number of more touchbacks this season. However, it doesn't mean that every kickoff will be a touchback. Even the possibility of a deep kick return by Banks would make teams interested in him.
The thought of Banks returning a kick return or catching a deep pass for the NY Giants is just too much for the Redskins to let him go. If the Redskins didn't have room on the 53, there was no doubt some team would be interested in him, even if just for the occasional kick return.
Banks proved he is an option at wide receiver. This preseason showed he is not just listed on the depth chart at WR for show. Shanahan has said that although Banks' small size hurt him when running certain routes, the team can get creative and use his speed and size to their advantage.
Shanahan best sums up Banks' ability to contribute outside his special teams role,
"He’s done a good job throughout training camp...He proved that he can play at the wide receiver position. And the one thing about Brandon, he can make plays. Like we ran him around on a reverse and not many people can make a corner miss like that and get a 40-something yard gain. And if you have to put him in the backfield, you can run him as a tailback because he has such great quickness. He’s a guy that’s a playmaker, and he’s proved that since he’s been here. We’re going to find ways to get him the football."
In the preseason, we saw Banks get a lot of reps at wide receiver and in the backfield against Tampa Bay. Don't expect to see Banks out there nearly as much. Shanahan used the preseason to prove what else Banks can do. I expect Shanahan will use Banks sparingly at WR, but expect those rare moments to be huge game-changing opportunities.
Brandon Banks is a playmaker. He will make huge runs, regardless of whether it's on a kick return, in the backfield or as a wide receiver.
Shanahan said that although he issued the challenge of making the team as a receiver, ultimately the only position that needs to be assigned to Banks is that of “playmaker.”
The highlights of his preseason included returning a 91-yard kick, catching a 47-yard pass from Kirk Cousins and gaining 43-yards on a reverse.
If he can do that and so much more in the regular season, he will live up to his "position" of playmaker.