The Giants are expected to start Banks, their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and Tre Hawkins III, a sixth-round pick, at outside cornerback.
That, according to what Banks said during the week and what I have been able to find in my own research, does not appear to have happened since at least 2000. That year, the Kansas City Chiefs had three rookie starters at cornerback. Greg Wesley started 16 games, Pat Dennis 13, and William Bartee 3. It may go back even farther than that, though, since neither Dennis nor Bartee appeared to start in Week 1.
In 2008, Brandon Carr started 16 games for the Chiefs and Brandon Flowers 13. Flowers, though, played in the slot Week 1 and played 234 of 813 snaps there for the season, so he was not full-time on the outside.
The 22-year-old Banks was born in 2001.
“We’re going to make history,” Banks said.
“It’s really cool that it’s the first time since like 2000 that it happened,” Hawkins said. “You just go out there and look forward to the moment.”
Hawkins, 23, and Banks locker next to each other at the Giants’ practice facility. The bond between the two was apparent on Wednesday as they playfully video-bombed 1-on-1 interviews a member of the Giants’ website was trying to record with each of them.
“We’re close,” Banks said.
Hawkins said the two have “a great relationship.”
“It’s like a brotherhood,” he said.
On Wednesday, there was a line of media members waiting to speak with Banks and Hawkins. Everyone, it seems, wonders how well this will work out for the Giants with a pair of untested rookies at cornerback.
It was ordained when Giants GM Joe Schoen traded up to No. 24 to select Banks, leading defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to practically break Schoen in half with a congratulatory hug that went viral on social media, that Banks would be a starting cornerback for the Giants in 2023.
Banks, after playing at Maryland in the Big 10 and being a first-round pick, could have been forgiven if he had questions initially about whether Hawkins, a sixth-round pick out of Old Dominion, belonged. That wasn’t the case.
“I never really wondered,” Banks said. “I feel like if we all here we all good. That’s just how I think.”
He knew right away when he saw Hawkins in the spring that his fellow rookie was a player.
“Sometimes you just know when someone can play,” Banks said. “You can feel it.”
Veteran cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who will move into the slot, said he also quickly recognized Hawkins’ talent.
“He was going out there with the three’s and doing his thing, going with the two’s, doing this thing. It’s like, ‘Man, this guy keeps showing up.’ I had seen him with the threes and the two’s but when he did it with the one’s, I don’t want to say it rung my radar, but it was one of those things where you knew he was about his business.,” Jackson said. “When he came out there and competed and played. Then when you saw him in preseason games, the joint practice, and the rest of the games that we’ve played, he’s done a tremendous job and he just carries himself the right way. I can tell how he approaches the game – he respects the game a lot and I think that’s going to play dividends for him in the future.”
Did Hawkins have questions when spring practices began about whether he belonged at the NFL level?
“Questions, no. Curiosity, yes,” Hawkins said. “Just because you hear it all the time — this guy went here, that guy went there. We’re all football players. No matter where you come from once you’re here, you’re here.”
Hawkins said there was no seminal moment or single practice or game rep where he realized he could perform at the NFL level.
“There were a lot of reps,” Hawkins said. “Just going from the 3s to the 2s to 1s. Each one of those groups it was like ‘OK, I’ve done it, now what can I do next?’”
Martindale said Hawkins has “stepped up to every challenge that we’ve given him.”
Banks and Hawkins are aware of the idea that they could be together as Giants’ cornerbacks for a number of years.
“We’ve talked about it a couple times,” Hawkins said. “It’s a real cool idea.”
Banks said he is “too excited” for his regular-season NFL debut.
“Words can’t really explain how excited,” he said.
Banks isn’t questioning whether he is ready for the moment.
“I’ve been in front of big crowds, packed crowds. I’ve been at Michigan. What do they call it, ‘The Shoe?’ I’ve been at The Shoe when it was a packed house. Actually I think Michigan has one of the biggest stadiums in college football, hold about 100,000 or something like that.”
Michigan Stadium, actually nicknamed ‘The Big House,’ officially holds 107,601.
Banks said that when he is playing, the crowd and the surroundings don’t matter.
“The fans, I really kind of zone them out,” Banks said. “You hear ‘em, but they’re kind of zoned out. You’re locked in on your task.”
Hawkins said he is “confident” he can do the job on Sunday night.
“We prepared great as a team. Coach has a great game plan for us. I’d say confident,” Hawkins said.
Martindale said Banks is “ahead of schedule” and that he “loves to compete, he loves this defense, he loves the system, and you can tell the way his teammates have grown close to him already that he’s an all-around good guy that’s going to have a lot of success in this league.”
Martindale knows there will be “hiccups” with both Banks and Hawkins.
“That’s being a rookie” Martindale said. “They are just two strong-willed individuals that I think they are going to be just fine.”
Martindale doesn’t fret about the fact that he will have two rookies at premium positions.
“You’ve got to play the best guys,” he said. “Once you get here – this is one of the things I love with Joe and Dabs – it doesn’t matter how you got here. I’m sure you’ve heard Dabs say this before, we’re going to play the best 11 that you can play that day. That’s what is exciting during training camp for coaches. I would think it’d be exciting for the players because they all get treated equally.”
Banks knows there will be times when he and Hawkins give up plays.
“I’m not going in there thinking I’m going to give one up,” Banks said. “You’re going to have to work to make a play, but if you make a play you make a play.
“I’m going in there thinking I’m going to do my best, put my best out there on the field.”
Old Dominion coach Blake Seiler told the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast over the summer that the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Hawkins has “really, really unique” size and frame for a defensive back.
“I think he’s in a great situation with the Giants,” Seiler said. “He’s got that length that a good press corner needs, especially in the NFL. But, he’s also got the speed to go with it.
“I think his best football is in front of him. He’s only been playing high-level football now for two years.”
Seiler predicted that getting into an NFL program with NFL coaches and an NFL training staff would help Hawkins to eventually outperform his status as a sixth-round pick.
“I truly believe that, I really do,” Seiler said. “He’s got first- or second-round traits.”
Banks knows people have “got a little doubt” about whether the pair can succeed, but said “me and Tre know ... we’re good.”
“I understand the curiosity, the questions, I understand it all,” Hawkins said. “I can’t control the curiosity, I can’t control the questions. I believe in Tae Banks and I believe in myself. That’s all I can tell anybody.”