Chris Banjo, the next big Thing on Special Teams

The team's current special teams captain is primed to continue his upward incline going into 2016.

It wasn't long after Jarrett Bush had proved to be a viable special teams captain for the final five of his nine years in Green Bay that he hit the free agent market. The 2015 off-season marked the end of a quiet, but efficient era for Bush and his tenure in Green Bay.

In the midst of Bush's final three years, the Packers signed undrafted free agent safety Sean Richardson, who would go on to become the next special teams standout. He gradually saw an increase year-by-year from 2012-2014 in his special teams snaps, culminating with 321 in 2014. His steady production and burst of proficiency in 2014 was more than enough to convince the team to move on from Bush, who, at the time was pushing 31 years of age. On top of Richardson bursting onto the scene, Bush's contract hit its ceiling and with his impending four-game suspension for an earlier arrest, the Packers chose not to re-sign the veteran.

Richardson brought a newfound look of versatility to the Packers, who showcased an ability to play on the front-lines of the defensive front and cause a ruckus in stopping the opponent's run game. On top of this skill set - the aforementioned presence he brought to special teams. 

In his formidable 2014 campaign, he finished eighth in the NFL in special teams tackles, giving the Packers the spark that Bush may not have been able to provide for much longer. 

Unfortunately, Richardson's expanding role reached its pinnacle in the week four match-up in San Francisco just this past season. 

The fourth-year player suffered a second herniated disk in his neck, nearly three years after his first which required fusion surgery in the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae. 

"According to neurosurgeons who have performed fusion surgery, a second herniation typically occurs directly below or above where the fusion took place," Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote in October 2015. "Richardson's latest herniation took place above the C-5, C-6 fusion."

This aftershock from Richardson's first injury ultimately resulted in the untimely end of his career. Although he is determined to play again at the professional level, the door — at least for now — is closed. However, when one door closes, another opens, and that's exactly what happened for another undrafted safety in 2013 whose last name makes you think of some kind of folk instrument. (I'm not sure why.)

Banjo found an increased workload in the latter stages of 2015 in Richardson's absence with a total of 334 special teams snaps, leading the team. He also toppled the mark previously set by Richardson, accounting for 21 special teams tackles in 2015. The progressive success not only brought a captain badge to his jersey in January, but the Packers exercised their exclusive-rights-free-agency tender on Banjo in March. 

This sent $675,000 Banjo's way, which was merely protocol due to the Southern Methodist University safety not having more than two NFL seasons under his belt as a result of being swapped between the main roster and the practice squad.

Banjo's impact in the special teams unit was one of the major components to uplifting their 32nd ranking in 2014 to 17th the year following. He puts to good use his speed — which his personal best in the 40-yard dash clocks in at a solid 4.40, giving him the ability to flash down the field on punt coverage and record one of the aforementioned 21 coverage tackles or down any one of Tim Masthay's punts to pin the opposition deep in their own territory.

However, Banjo knows his learning phase in Green Bay is just beginning.

"I'd know the concepts, but I definitely wouldn't say I have mastered everything," Banjo said in an interview with Silverstein's colleague, Lori Nickel, in September. "It's kind of like a controlled freelance. From film preparation, you know you can jump something here or do something extra there."

Building a rapport with teammates is also something important on Banjo's agenda — especially coming into more of a leadership role where he can prove as a model of consistency for younger players.

"Just like offense and defense, you build chemistry with certain guys. You get more specific as each week goes on."

The Packers reaching out to Banjo and offering the tender not only shows that the staff didn't want him leaving the team to sign with another, but it also gives confirmation that they may have found their special teams maestro. With expectations bearing down on him, this quiet maestro will likely continue the trend he's set for himself, or his name isn't Ayokunmi Christopher Oluwaseun Banjo.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (14)

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Bearmeat's picture

August 05, 2016 at 09:33 pm

Banjo will make the team as the 4th safety behind Burnett, HHCD and Hyde and he'll get a bunch of snaps on STs.

Happy for him. Good for us.

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The TKstinator's picture

August 06, 2016 at 08:09 pm

He was great in Deliverance.

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Amanofthenorth's picture

August 08, 2016 at 05:28 am

So was Ned.

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The TKstinator's picture

August 09, 2016 at 11:09 am

Not sure Ned would agree.

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Rossonero's picture

August 05, 2016 at 10:16 pm

Love Banjo. Every winning team needs guys like him for depth at safety, but especially on special teams.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

August 05, 2016 at 10:22 pm

Lol, I just knew Zach wrote this one.

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ZacharyJacobson's picture

August 05, 2016 at 10:29 pm

How so? I sure hope I'm not sounding redundant.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

August 06, 2016 at 12:02 am

Not at all. We just really need Preseason to hurry up =)

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poonhound's picture

August 06, 2016 at 12:34 am

I'm pretty sure Bush was suspended for performance enhancing drugs, not an arrest.

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ZacharyJacobson's picture

August 06, 2016 at 01:27 am

That's one of the factors "poonhound", but Bush was already a free agent that the Packers hadn't looked into resigning by his July suspension. The arrest occurred while he was still under contract with the Packers - a week before said contract expired.
http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/12407437/jarrett-bush-green-bay-packe...
http://es.pn/18hhgsz

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staffordsneckfat's picture

August 08, 2016 at 09:30 am

poonhound. what a big league name. respect.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 06, 2016 at 09:34 am

Love Banjo, and have frequently defended him from folks that think he should be jettisoned from the team to keep some nonentity. Banjo can actually play safety, and he is a good ST player.

I don't think much of the comparison to Richardson. The coaches certainly seemed to love Richardson, for no reason apparent to me. Richardson could not cover anyone - not in college or in the NFL. The guy was terrible. H/W/S project. Coaches tried to manufacture a position for him where he did not have to cover anyone on vertical routes. It never really worked. He was good on STs, but every year I advocated cutting him.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

August 06, 2016 at 01:17 pm

I like Banjo too. He's one of those players that does exactly what the coaches need him to. He's always where he needs to be.

As far as Richardson goes, IMO, I liked him because of the potential and his measurables. The role Dom has Burnett testing out I would have loved for Richardson. He was below average to average in man coverage, but Dom could have found way to cover that up. He brought a nastiness to the secondary that is now filled by HHCD.

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marpag1's picture

August 06, 2016 at 06:26 pm

This article is about three years late. Chris Banjo has been one of the best Packer special teamers going back to 2013.

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