WASHINGTON — Remember Brandon Banks? The old Washington Redskins’ returner who was built more like a hummingbird than an NFL player?
He left the NFL five years ago and has developed into one of the best players in the Canadian Football League, registering his first 1,000-yard receiving season in 2017 for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Perhaps the most impressive part is how he pulled it off, following a historically slow start.
The CFL season runs from the beginning of June through the end of October, which helps to compensate for the frigid temperatures that come with winter north of the border.
Through the first eight games of the season, Banks had a total of 52 receiving yards. Even in a 20-week season, he was on pace for 130 receiving yards in the season, a career low even though he started his CFL career as a return specialist.
Then, in Week 9 vs. the Ottawa Redblacks, he caught fire, tallying 98 yards and a receiving touchdown. He averaged just under 50 yards receiving over the next three weeks and then caught fire in the last week of September.
Over the next five weeks, Banks would break the 100-yard receiving mark each week, tallying 100, 104, 115, 129 and 193 yards. Over that span, he scored five touchdowns on offense and a 65-yard punt return for his 11th CFL special teams touchdown return.
Those 641 yards in five games are more receiving yards than any other season in his CFL career. His 240 all-purpose yards in Week 18 included both the 65-yard punt return and a 65-yard receiving touchdown.
He earned the Week 19 CFL Player of the Week award, October Player of the Month honors, and will be going to the CFL’s All-Star game for the first time as an offensive player (his fourth time total).
So what was the secret sauce? After the slow start, TiCats head coach Kent Austin stepped down to focus on personnel, allowing recently signed assistant June Jones to step into the role. Jones revolutionized the Run and Shoot offense at Hawaii and SMU and is a good friend of Mike Shanahan, who used to coach Banks on the Washington Redskins.
Once Jones arrived, Banks became a focal point in the offense, averaging 95 yards receiving per game.
“I didn’t think it would happen so soon,” Banks told reporters after breaking the 1,000-yard plateau. “But I always knew that I had the ability to play receiver. I always knew that. That’s what I work at every offseason. It is what it is, I just do what I’m asked to do.”
After the terrible start to the season, the TiCats weren’t playing for the playoffs, meaning that Banks enters the offseason healthy and ready to hit free agency.
“I’m rejuvenated as a player. I’ve got another leverage under my belt,” he said. “Prior to this, I was going into the offseason talking about returning, but now I can go in talking about receiving yards as well.”
Could he ever translate that success back to the NFL? That is a multi-million dollar question without an easy answer.
When Banks played in Washington, his biggest problem is that the field was actually too small to accommodate his speedy skill set. In the CFL, he plays on a field that is 110 by 65 yards, rather than 100 by 53 1⁄3 yards.
Before taking into account that the CFL has 20-yard end zones, the playing surface is already 34 percent bigger. That’s more room for Banks to take advantage of his absurdly unique skill set and succeed.
Regardless of whether or not Banks comes back to the NFL, kudos to him, Jones and the CFL for finding a football match made in heaven.