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Why did Washington select safety Darrick Forrest with their 5th round draft pick?

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Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Cincinnati v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham /Getty Images

Over the past few years, I have made a habit out of profiling late round draft picks, UDFAs and low-profile free agent signings on the Washington roster in May and June — that quiet period of the NFL year between the draft and the start of training camp.

Because I’ve done it pretty regularly, I get a sense for a player based on the quantity and type of information that can be found on him. For some really unlikely UDFAs, it can be difficult to find much more than a scouting report of the guy as a high school player and his college stats. As you move up through the rounds of the draft, there tends to be more and more written about players. When you get to the Chase Youngs and Trevor Lawrences of the NFL world, it wouldn’t take too long to find out their exact shoe size or what they eat for lunch on Wednesdays.

Vanilla ice cream

Darrick Forrest, as a 5th round pick, seems to be underrepresented in the virtual world of sports and draft journalism. It’s not that there’s nothing there; it’s just that there seems to be no passion from any of the writers. Forrest comes across in damn near everything I read as sort of the “vanilla ice cream” of draft picks.

Forrest played for the Cincinnati Bearcats, who had two safeties selected in this year’s draft. Early on in the pre-draft process, the other safety, James Wiggins, was seen as the better NFL prospect; it was Wiggins that people were talking about. Note the opening line of Sports Illustrated’s Draft Bible profile of Darrick Forrest:

The lesser discussed member of one of the top safety duos in college football, Forrest is a versatile coverage safety who has shown the ability to work in both short zones, deep zones and man coverage. He is a highly productive player on the back end who has a solid athletic profile to match up adequately in man coverage, while covering enough ground in deep coverage.

In a fashion that seems to me now typical of everything connected to Forrest, he was selected by Washington in the 5th round, while his teammate James Wiggins, who was supposed to have more draft buzz, went to the Cardinals in the 7th round. Go figure.

And, remember that “vanilla ice cream” comment I made earlier? Look at how the Draft Bible ends its review of Darrick Forrest:

Despite his willingness, he possesses a light frame with a very thin lower half. This could limit his impact in the run game on a consistent basis. Forrest also lacks aggressiveness. He is cool and calculated, but misses out on some opportunities to push the issue, instead vying for cleanup responsibilities. In the end, Forrest is a dependable player who lacks any dynamic traits. Teams should value him as a backup option with a relatively high floor, but questionable ceiling.

This kind of analysis leaves you feeling a bit let down.

“Lacks aggressiveness”

“Misses out on some opportunities”

“light frame with very thin lower half”

“value him as a backup option...questionable ceiling”

Even his highlight tape uses “vanilla” music

If this was the only profile I read like this, then I’d probably be quick to dismiss it, but Forrest didn’t really excite many analysts pre-draft:

More SI:

Teams were not enamored with the so-called “light frame’’ (6’0” 200) and “adequate’’ speed that Forrest brings.

A Broncos team site:

There is a good ceiling and a good floor with Forrest to be somewhat of a safe pick. His football IQ is the closest thing to an elite trait that he has....

Last Word on Sports:

While teammate James Wiggins is garnering more draft buzz, Forrest has begun to gain some steam in draft circles. Although he may struggle at times processing plays, he generally puts himself in a position to make plays and seems to learn from his mistakes.

Man, when I keep reading your teammate’s name in your draft profile and the best thing I see is that you “learn from your mistakes”, combined with all this talk of being undersized, I start to wonder who it is we just drafted.

Special Teams

Earlier this week I put the spotlight on one of Washington’s special teams players, Jordan Kunaszyk, who has really never had a defensive role in his 2-year NFL career. Kunaszyk was undrafted; Forrest is a 5th rounder. Forrest will probably see the field defensively in dime coverage or as a backup, but he is seen by analysts and coaches as primarily a special teams player with upside. Think about a young Deshazor Everett and I think you’ll have the right idea.

Here’s what Tony Pauline of the Pro Football Network had to say about Darrick Forrest:

Forrest was a terrific defensive back at the college level but lacks NFL play speed. He’s a dime safety whose career hinges on special teams.

Okay. I see. Tell me more.

He projects to be scheme versatile in the NFL. He can play in the box, in the slot, or deep. As a result of that versatility — and his special teams’ experience — Forrest’s best fits are essentially any team that needs safety help in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Yes! This is why I pays my money for good analysis!

Forrrest is “scheme versatile”!! That sounds good to me!

But you just can’t get away from that vanilla thing, even when analysts are writing good things about Forrest: “best fits are essentially with any team”... vanilla.

So, I get it. The 5th round safety is a backup who will earn his crust in the NFL as a special teams player and general dogsbody when it comes to his position in the defensive backfield. Just look at where PFF shows him lining up in his college career:

Athleticism and speed

One thing that kept confusing me about Forrest was that I kept reading vanilla terms from draft analysts to describe his speed and athleticism. I read “adequate”, “solid”, “safe”, and even “below average” when it came to describing Forrest’s physical traits and on-field speed, and that seemed antithetical to everything else I’d seen from Rivera and Mayhew in the 2021 draft, where they seemed to value athleticism and speed very highly.

So I checked out Forrest’s RAS score.

The picture started to clarify. Yes, Forrest is a bit undersized, but this says he’s fast and explosive, and we know from his college tape that he’s a good tackler. When you consider that both Rivera and Del Rio talked about Forrest as being primarily a special teams player as a rookie, the picture seems to sharpen.

Mark Bullock

Whenever I need clarification about the skills and fit of a Washington Football Team player, I go directly to former Hogs Haven contributor and commenter, Mark Bullock, who is an outstanding analyst and intimately familiar with the Washington team and schemes.

CLICK HERE to read Mark Bullock’s full film analysis of Darrick Forrest

With its fifth-round pick, Washington drafted Cincinnati safety Darrick Forrest. He tested in the elite range for speed and explosiveness at the safety position, and had good agility numbers too. After the draft, Head Coach Ron Rivera and General Manager Martin Mayhew we’re both quick to point out his special teams ability and in a recent interview with the team, Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio echoed that sentiment by stating “he’ll start out on special teams”.

Clearly, Forrest is expected to become a key member of the special teams units early in his career and will likely be limited to a back up role at safety, similar to Deshazor Everett.

Obviously, the team would love for him to develop over time and contribute on defense too, but for the immediate future his role will be to be a key leader on special teams. Rivera praised his character and leadership multiple times after the draft and noted he was one of Washington’s top special teams players on their board. Special teams is a component of the game most fans will overlook, often only noticing special teams play if it’s bad. If Forrest can come in and chase down some of Tress Way’s punts, then he’ll have an opportunity to make an impact for the Football Team.

I’d like to point out here, that in a passage just 215 words long, Bullock used the words “special teams” 7 times.

The message should be loud and clear by this point — Darrick Forrest was drafted for his special teams abilities.

Not so vanilla after all

I think I finally understand the draft pick. Darrick Forrest compares favorably to a player like Deshazor Everett — a guy who will make his mark on special teams and merely add depth and some flexibility to the safety position on defense, hopefully growing into the defensive role over time.

Forrest is seen as a leader and high-character guy; maybe coaches project him as a future special teams captain.

Athletically, he tests elite for speed and explosion, and he’s surprisingly strong on the bench press for a guy his size. He should be able to get downfield in a hurry on kickoff and punt coverage, and bring a hammer to the return man when he arrives.

Defensively, with those specific tools, and with his relative lack of short area quickness and agility, I’d expect to see him lined up primarily as a deep safety, but it seems clear that he can line up in almost any DB position, using his speed and football IQ as tools in coverage.

The formula:

elite speed + character & leadership + on field aggression = Washington Football Team

Darrick Forrest, wired for sound at practice: