Who Shall Lead Them? Turnovers

Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series if you will, and we continue this week with Who Shall Lead Them? An attempt to discern who will lead Mississippi State in some of the more important and hard-to-guess statistical categories this season.

Today: who will lead MSU in turnovers in 2012?

On the surface, the answer seems easy. “Why, Johnthan Banks, of course!” they exclaim. “He forced all those turnovers in 2011, and now he’s a year older!” they remind me.

Johnthan Banks

Well, this vague “they” person is right. The senior cornerback figures to be, once again, the top turnover-getter (that’s a word, yeah?) for Chris Wilson’s defense. He had five interceptions and three forced fumbles in 2011, both of which were team highs. But before we explore who else could lead in 2012, let’s look back at a few stats from last season.

The Bulldogs racked up 12 interceptions and 17 forced fumbles in 2011. Of those 29 game-changing plays, 24 of them were by players who return this fall.

All of the intercepters are back, while Fletcher Cox, Trevor Stigers, Charles Mitchell and Brandon Wilson combined to force five fumbles and are now gone.

Of course, the pressure Cox created at defensive tackle likely contributed to many of the turnovers by others.

So, the top competitors for Banks’ reign atop the turnovers list?

Linebacker Cam Lawrence had a pair of picks and two forced fumbles last year, but by the nature of his position he just won’t have as many opportunities as Banks.

Fellow linebacker Deontae Skinner had a couple fumbles forced last year, as well, and could make big strides based on his spring performance. But again, his position doesn’t lend itself to those big plays.

Senior cornerback Darius Slay, who had one interception and forced fumble each in 2011, could give Banks some serious competition, especially if he’s able to break into the starting lineup, as we wrote about last week. Slay might be the fastest defensive back MSU has, and he has a nose for the ball, as evidenced by his three interceptions in State’s last big scrimmage before the Spring Game. The ability is there; the opportunity is the question.

The man with the best chance to overtake Banks? Junior safety Nickoe Whitley. With four interceptions in 2011, the hard-hitting safety was only one pick shy of Banks, and he did it in just nine games of action before an Achilles injury cut his season short.

Whitley also forced one fumble last year, which is almost surprising when you remember some of the massive hits he laid on opposing receivers and running backs. If the stat sheet had told me it was four, I’d have believed it. As a redshirt freshman in 2010, Whitley started 11 of 13 games, recorded three interceptions and also forced a fumble.

Chances are, MSU’s top All-American candidate will once again lead the team in turnovers, and Banks will likely end up as a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Outside of Whitley, perhaps, the biggest competition for turnovers Banks might have is himself. Opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks will be doing all they can to avoid Banks this fall, if such a thing can be done.

But if the other SEC signal callers look elsewhere on the field, Whitley, Slay and the gang will be ready to see the action come their way. And we didn’t even mention Corey Broomfield, the other starting senior cornerback who was a freshman All-American in 2009.

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