Ranking Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 21, Guard Aaron Banks
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Notre Dame’s 25 Most Important Players: No. 21, Aaron Banks

Over the next month, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2020.

This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals who need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to facilitate the Fighting Irish’s goal of climbing toward championship timber.

Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?

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The players and their ranking were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com writers.

Next in the countdown is guard Aaron Banks, who collected 29 points in our poll.

Why Banks Is Ranked No. 21

If one starting guard appears on the list, as Tommy Kraemer did at No. 23, it makes sense for the other to be included as well. Especially when the offensive line has been lauded as frequently as Notre Dame’s this offseason.

All five starters plus the top reserve return. If 2020 is a successful offensive season, the line with 114 career starts will be an integral part of high point totals and strong efficiency numbers.

Banks enters his second full season as the starter at left guard. He moved into the lineup during the 2018 season after Alex Bars’ injury and solidified the job heading into the spring. He allowed only two sacks and nine total pressures in 844 snaps last year, per Pro Football Focus. In both seasons, he has not registered a PFF pass blocking, run blocking or overall offensive grade below 70.0, which is safely above average.

The reasons for a lower ranking in the top 25 are the same as Kraemer. Guards are less valued than tackles. If forced to pick, having a superstar tackle over a superstar guard would be the common choice. If forced to play with a liability, it’s better to have it be a guard. Notre Dame also has a capable and experienced backup in Josh Lugg, who can play any position on the line.

But like Kraemer, Banks’ presence makes Notre Dame better. He has kept Ian Book upright. His size (6-6, 325) makes him a strong puller who can swallow up linebackers and defensive backs, or go one-on-one with interior defensive linemen without giving up too much.

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Banks’ Status Entering The Season

A foot fracture suffered in the offseason was supposed to keep Banks out of spring practices until those were canceled. He was not dressed for Notre Dame’s one spring practice. Banks had foot surgery in summer 2019, but was recovered by training camp.

An injury seems like the only way Banks is not in the starting lineup. He can get lost in the crowd on the offensive line, but he has been reliable throughout his time as a starter, even though he plays a less visible position and has not generated the draft buzz left tackle Liam Eichenberg has.

Behind Lugg, Notre Dame has a host of linemen who have barely seen the field or not played at all. Six of them have four years of eligibility left. Two more have three years left and have not held notable roles. Only two of the scholarship reserves are in their fourth year on campus, and neither has played much.

That said, Notre Dame’s history of little-used linemen filling in capably due to injury is strong, which makes sense giving the recruiting history at the position. Banks and Lugg went from backups who never played to starters and performed well. Notre Dame has a few former top-150 recruits who could conceivably do the same if asked.

Aaron Banks allowed only two sacks and nine pressures last season.
Aaron Banks allowed only two sacks and nine pressures last season. (Bill Panzica)

What Would Be Considered A Successful Individual Season?

Becoming a clear draft pick would be a good place to start.

Banks leaving school after this season and eschewing a fifth year would imply he reached that level, therein helping himself and Notre Dame. Banks departing wouldn’t leave the Irish in a tricky spot either: Lugg and the combined six four-star recruits from the 2019 and 2020 class give the line plenty of long-term promise.

Reaching that sure-fire draft pick point isn’t a stretch for Banks. A pressure rate around his 2019 level and another season with minimal sacks allowed would help. As is the case with his offensive line teammates, he can find some more consistency as a run blocker. Notre Dame needs it to improve its short-yardage problems and avoid running game no-shows against stout defenses.

Behind The Ranking

The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com writers submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.

Individual rankings:

Patrick Engel: 20

Lou Somogyi: Not ranked

Mike Singer: 21

Todd Burlage: 17

Andrew Mentock: 18

Prior Top 25 Profiles

No. 22: Bennett Skowronek

No. 23: Tommy Kraemer

No. 24: Isaiah Pryor

No. 25: Kurt Hinish


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