The term "ball hawk" is thrown around a lot these days.
That was the sentiment general manager Martin Mayhew began his and head coach Ron Rivera’s joint press conference with on the first night of the 2023 NFL Draft. There are certainly some players who deserve the title, and almost any NFL fan could probably come up with a list of defensive backs who they think fit the description because of a pass breakup, an interception or even a pick-six.
For the Commanders, however, the search for a ball hawk -- someone who can help turn an already above average defense into the gold standard of the league -- was about more than finding a player who occasionally creates a game-changing moment. For them, it was about taking a player who could consistently be relied upon to change the tides for his unit and have a reverberating effect on the entire time.
The Commanders think they have one in Emmanuel Forbes.
"The guy is an impact player," Mayhew said. "He's one of my favorite guys in this draft. From studying all these guys, he really was a guy that it was really fun to watch, because the guy gets the ball."
Most Commanders fans are familiar with Forbes' reputation for being one of the best cornerbacks in all of college football. The highlights include 14 career interceptions, six of which were returned for touchdowns -- an FBS record; an 89.6 cover grade among cornerbacks last year, which was the best among all SEC cornerbacks; 150 career tackles; and 20 career pass breakups.
Say what you want about Forbes reporting to the combine at 166 pounds. He still put up some of the best numbers for his position, and he did so in college football's best conference.
"I'm not going to stress about it," Forbes said after he was drafted. "They [Washington] didn't have a problem with it."
Like every other NFL player, Forbes went on a journey to get to this point. What started out as an opportunity to bond with his brothers turned into a passion, and from there, he turned into one of the best high school athletes in Mississippi and eventually one of the best student athletes in Mississippi State's illustrious history.
Now, Forbes is getting ready to take the first step in what he hopes will be a long NFL career. Who knows how it will turn out, but if his past is any indication, he is set up to have a bright future.
"I'm going to bring a guy that's going to have a great attitude, come in and work every day, just helping the team win games and hopefully my game is turning the ball over and create a lot of turnovers for the Washington Commanders."
Part 4: "He's the total package"
Most college players lucky enough to have their name called during the NFL draft are in a state of euphoria, and Forbes was no exception when he got the call from Rivera, who informed Forbes the Commanders intended to use the 16th overall pick on him.
But things were a little different for Forbes as he listened to Rivera explain how excited the Commanders were to have him. Forbes answered most questions with a simple "Yes, sire," and there was a look of intense focus on his face.
When Rivera asked if he was ready to play some football, Forbes answered, "I'm ready right now."
That's been the attitude Forbes has had all summer, and for the most part, he has played up to that standard for himself. From competing against rookies to matching up against the Commanders' best receivers, Forbes has played at a level consistent with what the team expected him to be. Now, as the Commanders quickly approach training camp, he is primed to be a difference maker.
"It's what we were hoping for," Rivera said. "I mean, 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."
Every rookie goes through some growing pains, or at least most of them do, in their first NFL season. The game is significantly faster than the college level, the season is longer and there's a new -- and complex -- playbook to study.
If Forbes is going through a learning curve, it isn't showing much. He grabbed his first interception of the offseason during rookie minicamp, and once the veterans joined practice, he was thrown into the starting rotation.
"It's been a lot of work. Good work," Forbes said. "It's been a fast tempo. You're going against the vets, so they know what they're doing and how to do it and been pros for a while. It's just good competition."
But Forbes often played like a veteran during OTAs and minicamp. Forbes matched up against the Commanders' best receivers this offseason, including Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. There were some moments where the wideouts got the better of Forbes, but for the most part, Forbes held his own and even managed to record some pass breakups during team drills.
That has to excite Del Rio, who was "fired up" about adding Forbes to the secondary.
"I think he's a tremendous football player," Del Rio said. "He's fast. He's got great ball skills. He's very bright and he played against some of the best competition that you can being in the SEC and held up week in and week."
There were some moments when Forbes lined up in the slot, particularly at the beginning of offseason practices, because the coaches thought it would give him good experience and allow him to learn the defense at a quicker pace. For the most part, though, Forbes has lined up on the outside.
Regardless of where he was on the field, though, Forbes used the traits that convinced Washington to draft him, like his length, quickness and speed, to shut down receivers. It didn't take long to earn his new teammates' respect.
"Honestly, I watched the tape and I was like, 'I think he's good, but I don't know,'" Dotson said. "After seeing him on the field, I know how good he is now. I understand why he was drafted in the first round. I understand what all the hype is about."
He also impressed his fellow cornerbacks. When asked about his initial thoughts of Forbes, veteran Kendall Fuller said the first-round pick is a "playmaker."
"He's a confident guy, twitchy, athletic," Fuller said. "Young with fresh legs, going out there trying to compete and get his hand on the ball. No matter what team you're on in the National Football League, it's all about getting your hands on the ball."
Check out the top photos of Forbes' tour of the Washington Commanders' training facility in Ashburn, Virginia. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
With that in mind, Forbes' six interceptions returned for touchdowns stood out to Fuller.
"As a DB, you want to touch the football, and you want to get into the end zone," Fuller said. "For him to do that at a high level, that's why he's a first-round pick. I know he's working hard to do the same thing on this stage."
There's still a lot for Forbes to prove before he gets to Week 1. Making plays during OTAs is impressive, but doing so during camp, when contact is allowed, will be a bigger test for him.
But so far, Forbes has been exactly what Rivera expected him to 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. So, it's been a very good offseason with him so far."
As good as this summer has been for Forbes, there is still a lot for him to prove. People are still going to question his size and how he will fare against the bigger, more physical receivers in the NFL.
Those questions are fair, but Forbes has found a way to exceed expectations throughout his playing career. At this point, there's no reason to doubt whether he can do the same at the highest level.
"He's the total package," Mayhew said. "He really is. He can do everything that a corner should be able to do."