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One burning question about Washington's cornerbacks ahead of the 2023 season

05132023 Rookie Mini Camp EF0049

The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team unless specified by a direct quote. 

The Washington Commanders' offseason workout program is over, which means that all the coaches and players scattered to the wind for the next five weeks until training camp begins in late July. 

It's hard to glean much from this point in the year, when the most we have to go on are noncontact practices with players only wearing jerseys and helmets, but we did learn some things about what Washington could look like in 2023. We now know that Sam Howell has a good shot of being the starter for Week 1; the tight end group could be one of the most productive on the team; and the secondary looks to be brimming with talent. 

There are still some questions that simply cannot be answered until the regular season begins. That isn't going to stop us from speculating on them. 

For the next five weeks, will be examining one burning question about each position group on Washington's roster. Next up are the cornerbacks.

What will Emmanuel Forbes' impact be as a rookie?

Depth at cornerback was one the Commanders' biggest problems last season, and that weakness became even more prevalent at a critical time.

Once Benjamin St-Juste went down with a sprained ankle, the Commanders had to look for other options on its roster. Players like Christian Holmes and Danny Johnson had their moments, but the results were largely inconsistent. The defense was still competitive, but after a 6-1 stretch in the middle of the season, the Commanders wrapped up the season with a 1-3-1 record in the last five games.

So, the Commanders used their first-round pick to shore up the position, adding Emmanuel Forbes to the group. Forbes is expected by the coaching staff to be a difference-maker with his tendency to create turnovers and turn them into points. As he showed during his career at Mississippi State with his six career pick-sixes, no one in FBS history is better than him at that.

Obviously, Forbes will get plenty of snaps this year, but where he fits among the rest of his fellow cornerbacks is a little more difficult to answer. No matter where he plays, the expectations for Forbes will be high.

"This is a guy that fits the bill for us," said head coach Ron Rivera. "We think he's gonna come in and help us and help elevate our defense."

First, let's state what should already be general knowledge: although he did get some snaps in the slot, Forbes is going to work primarily on the outside. He played almost there almost exclusively in college -- he was lined up out wide on 606 of his 729 snaps -- and he had the best cover grade in the SEC at the position last year.

Forbes' size, which was a major factor for analysts during the draft process, was not an obstacle for the rookie during OTAs and minicamp. He never shied away from being physical during team drills, nor was he hesitant to match up against any pass-catcher.

Still, Forbes is going to be tested by offenses by being matched up against bigger, more physically imposing receivers. How he matches up against the likes of A.J. Brown and CeeDee Lamb will go a long way in determining how impactful Forbes can be as a rookie.

However, Forbes did show that he has no problem with holding his own against the Commanders' best receivers during the offseason. He got snaps against Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson in practice, and all three did manage to make some catches over him, he also forced several incompletions in man and zone coverage.

Granted, there was not much contact during the offseason, and neither McLaurin, Samuel nor Dotson is as big of a target as Brown or Lamb. Still, it's a positive that Forbes can handle himself against receivers of that caliber.

"We're looking for a guy that can impact the ball when it's being thrown, when it's in the air, and that's who he was in college and that's what he's showing us so far," Rivera said. "So, it's been pretty exciting. We're feeling really good about it so far. Obviously, there is the physical nature of the game that we'll have to watch once we get the pads on, but as of right now everything else he's done, he's done exactly what we saw."

Forbes likely will not be a starter as a rookie. St-Juste and Kendall Fuller are expected to be the primary cornerbacks on the outside, although Fuller and St-Juste's versatility does mean they could move around to get all three players on the field.

Forbes will still end up getting a sizable chunk of the snaps, though, partly because he had such a good offseason. Like Rivera said, the real test for Forbes will be in fully padded practices during camp, but so far, Forbes has answered any questions that may arise about whether his size will be a problem in the NFL.

It's only July, but all signs point to Forbes having the impact the Commanders believing he could be.

"He is a ball hawk," Rivera said. "He does time it out very well, does put himself in position. He's working against some of the best route runners right now in the league, and that's kind of neat to watch this young man grow already."

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