The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
Just recently, ESPN reported that the Cowboys were “closely watching” the defensive back Emmanuel Forbes in the draft. Of course, the Commanders made him the 16th overall pick in the draft.
Before the draft, Mark Bullock, who is an outstanding film analyst that focuses on Washington football, did an in-depth film breakdown of Forbes. If you don’t already have a subscription to Bullock’s film room, I suggest you get one right away; he is a gold mine of great detail about what happens on the field with Washington football. While Bullock’s article breaks down 6 plays in detail, his summary of Forbes’ skills is clear and concise.
While [Joey Porter Jr.] is a talented player, I’m not sure he fits Washington’s scheme. One cornerback that might be a better fit for the Commanders is Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes. Forbes is a long but skinny corner, measuring in at 6-foot-1 but just 166 pounds. He doesn’t come with the same hype and press man abilities that Porter does, but he’s more scheme diverse and probably fits with more teams around the league because of it, including Washington.
The first thing that stands out when watching Forbes is how comfortable, smooth and confident he is in zone coverage. It’s clear he has a strong understanding of not only his role within the system, but the defense as a whole. He knows where his help is which enables him to confidently pass off routes and adjust his coverage to pick up other routes without hesitation.
Forbes is clearly a strong zone defender with a high level of understanding of not only his role, but the bigger overall picture of the defensive structure and how offenses will look to attack it. Having that level of big picture understanding is impressive for a college corner and is a huge asset as he enters the NFL. He’ll fit with any team that plays zone coverage, but many NFL defenses are evolving into match coverages, which start off looking like zone while defenders read the releases of multiple receivers and then decide which one to attach to. This takes a lot of time to learn and perfect, but Forbes appears to have the mental capacity for it, which makes him a strong fit for what the Commanders do defensively.
It’s also worth mentioning that while Forbes is very accomplished as a zone corner, he’s not inept in man coverage. He’s quite sticky in being able to stay tight to receivers even on routes that are typically tough to stick close to.
Overall, Forbes is a much better fit for the Commanders than Porter, at least in my view. [H]is zone instincts and smarts fit what the Commanders do and should enable him to learn and adjust to their match coverages too. He’s also capable of playing man-to-man, which Washington does like to do on third downs, and he’s agile enough to kick inside to the slot too, which would allow the Commanders to play him alongside both Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste without anyone missing playing time in a nickel package.
With the addition of Quan Martin in the 2nd round, the Commanders got a skilled slot defender who seems to neatly replace the role that Bobby McCain had previously filled, and maybe more. Here’s some of what the Draft Network had to say about him prior to April’s NFL draft:
Martin has a really likable skill set that projects well to today’s NFL game. He’s got coverage abilities to match in the slot. He’s physical enough to re-route releases and disrupt timing long enough to ensure he’s able to get hands on and carry routes across the middle of the field. Plus, he sustains that contact well through the catch point, squeezing receivers and forcing tight throwing windows. That pairs with his tackling skills to create a well-rounded player. This is one of the better tackling defensive backs in the class and his ability to finish both at the catch point and in the run game make him a defender that has a high floor. Martin is someone who also offers a special teams resume, which makes him a lock for a 53-man roster even if he lands in a defense that has a crowded defensive backfield. His ability to tackle in space will get him on every kick coverage unit on the team.
[A]nyone looking to get the best version of him is wise to commit to playing him in the nickel. Whether you classify him as a corner or a safety is really inconsequential relative to the nickel role—although I do think he can move around as a shallow MOF defender beyond more than just the slot. I think he can play early and often, but his role isn’t one I see projecting as favorably into base defense. Although, as we all know, the game is played in sub these days.
Benjamin St-Juste and Kendall Fuller
Of course, Washington returns its two starting corners from last season, Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste.
St-Juste is a 3rd-year player, but because of injuries, he has played just 973 defensive snaps in his career, meaning that he is still learning. Mark Bullock did a detailed breakdown of his game against the Vikings in November 2022, which was St-Juste’s 18th career regular season game. Here’s a bit of what Bullock had to say.
One of the fun battles to watch back on the All-22 footage was cornerback Benjamin St-Juste against Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson. Jefferson is currently second in the NFL for receiving yards behind only Tyreek Hill, who has played one more game than him. Jefferson finished this game with seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, which on the surface make it look like St-Juste had a poor game. But while St-Juste did give up some plays to Jefferson, I suspect the Commanders will overall be encouraged by how well St-Juste was able to hold his own against one of the best receivers in the league.
Understanding when you’re in-phase and safe to look back for the ball and when you’re out-of-phase and not safe to look for the ball is critical for young cornerbacks to learn. St-Juste is still effectively in his rookie season after missing most of last year with concussion issues, so those...were valuable lessons for him because he did a lot of good things....
St-Juste corrected these mistakes later in the game.
Cornerback is a volatile position because one mistake can lead to a big play for the other team. Young cornerbacks can be susceptible to making mistakes, so that volatility can be even more high variance. That’s been the case with St-Juste so far this year. He’s often had one or two really nice reps and then followed it up with three or four bad ones. In this game, that variance was still there but the quality of the good plays stood out because they show the potential that St-Juste has going forward.
St-Juste’s performance overall was far from perfect, but the potential is clear to see. His length is a huge asset, as is his quickness. He’s starting to define what he’s best at, playing outside and in press coverage. He’ll need to continue to improve on the smaller details and become a little more consistent with his coverage overall, but he’s heading in the right direction.
Kendall Fuller has been around long enough that no one is really writing profiles or doing breakdowns of his play these days. The most recent ones I found were talking about Washington’s secondary issues in 2021 and how he would (or wouldn’t) mesh with William Jackson in 2022.
As a proxy for any recent prose, I thought I’d offer up a PFF matrix of grades that cover Fuller’s career. PFF likes Fuller, and consistently fills his sheet with green.
We don’t know the exact 2023 cap hits for the two drafted rookies yet, but, thanks to the work of the fine people at Over the Cap, I can offer some reasonable estimates.
Some people have suggested that Fuller could be a salary cap casualty ahead of the start of the ‘23 season, but I don’t see that as a likelihood. Outside of Fuller, Washington’s entire secondary is playing on rookie contracts, RFA tenders, or vet-minimum deals.
Per Over the Cap, Washington is spending $22m on the CB position this season, ranking 14th in the league, and just $9.4m at safety — the lowest of any position group on the team except RB, and 24th in the league. Fuller is the only extravagance, from a salary cap standpoint, on the Commanders roster, and he’s a pretty good player. I think he plays out his contract this season as the ‘elder statesman’ of the group.
What grade do you expect the group of Fuller, St-Juste, Forbes and Martin to earn in 2023?
This poll is closed