What does safety Darrick Forrest bring to the Washington Football Team?

What is Washington getting in its fifth-round pick?

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. But if Washington were to suffer injuries at the position and Forrest was needed to step in, what could he bring to Washington’s defense? Let’s take a closer look.

From a coverage perspective, that speed certainly gives him some range. He spent the majority of games I watched in the deep middle of the field and his speed gives him the ability to cover a lot of ground from that spot.

This play comes from the 2019 season against Ohio State. Forrest aligns as the single deep safety on a play-action pass concept. Forrest backpedals out of the picture to stay on top of the deepest route while Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields does a terrific job avoiding pressure in the pocket. He resets and throws to the crossing route from left to right. Just as Fields looks to have completed his pass along the sideline, Forrest comes charging in from deep and lands a big hit to dislodge the ball and force an incompletion.

That range is evident whenever Forrest gets his reads correct. He can cover a lot of ground to position himself to make plays and will routinely go for a big hit to force incomplete passes.

On this play against SMU, Cincinnati is defending the end zone late in the game with a present defense. Forrest aligns in the deep middle of the field and reads the quarterback looking to his slot receiver. He slides over to that side as he follows the quarterback’s eyes and as soon as the ball is out, he drives on it. He arrives at the same time as the ball and the hit causes the ball to come out. 

However, the form of the tackle is worrying. Forrest dropped his head and even turned his back to the receiver. He never saw his target and just threw his body at him. That’s dangerous to both himself and the receiver, as well as his nearby teammate that could have just as easily taken the hit. There were a number of missed tackles in the open field when watching Forrest, which is a concern, especially at the safety position. The safety is often the last line of defense, so if they miss the tackle it can lead to huge plays for the offense.

Here, Memphis motions a receiver into a bunch set to the left of the formation. All the receivers to that side run various forms of crossing routes designed to create traffic for the defense while the running back leaks out to the flat behind them. Forrest is the single deep safety on the play and while it’s not his responsibility to cover the running back, he is meant to get over the top and prevent the play from gaining extra yards. The ball is quickly thrown to the back and Forrest covers plenty of ground to get over the top. However, once he encounters the running back, Forrest stops his feet and misses the tackle, allowing the back to pick up extra yards.

My other concern for Forrest as a deep safety is how easily he can be manipulated by the quarterback. Deep safeties often follow the eyes of the quarterback for a hint of where the ball is going, however they also have a feel of the receivers and routes being run around them. Forrest tends to focus too much on the quarterback and not so much on the routes around him.

On this play, Forrest aligns as the single deep safety in the middle of the field, but rotates to his right off the snap. The offense has a receiver running a deep dig route from their right side, which crosses over the middle of the field. As the ball is snapped, Forrest sinks to his coverage responsibly, but quickly reads the quarterback looking to his right. Forrest then begins to drift to the middle of the field to try and follow the quarterback’s eyes. Forrest gets to the middle of the field before he realises the ball is being thrown to a crossing route underneath him. He overruns the route and is actually closer to the right side of the field than the receiver is by the time the ball is caught. 

That’s not necessarily a route that Forrest would have been expected to impact and break up the pass, but it shows he’s too reliant on the quarterback’s eyes for where the ball is going, rather than reading route combinations and feeling receivers around him. It’s good to have eyes on the quarterback because there can be valuable information to be gained there, but the good quarterbacks will deliberately look the wrong way to send a safety in the wrong direction, and Forrest is a candidate to fall for that often.

Forrest also has some inconsistencies in the run game. When working from deep, I felt he was a little late to read run. More often than not, that isn’t an issue for the deep safety, as he’s not really part of the fit anyway and the play rarely gets to him. However, there were times when a delayed run read cost him and the defense significantly.

Here, Forrest starts off aligned over the slot receiver, but then rotates back to the deep middle of the field as that receiver goes in motion. As the ball is snapped, Forrest has a lot of information to process. First, there is the receiver in motion, then there’s the potential threat of the quarterback keeping the ball on an option play, and of course there’s the threat of the running back too. Cincinnati doesn’t do a great job fitting up the run, which allows the running back to take the carry and bounce his run to the edge. However, notice how long it takes for Forrest to diagnose who has the ball and where it’s going. The back has already burst through the line of scrimmage and into the open field before Forrest has even stopped his momentum towards the middle of the field. Even with his great speed, Forrest is unable to catch the back, who takes the run all the way for a touchdown. 

Forrest also had some tackling issues in the run game. Just like when in coverage, if the safety misses a tackle in the run game, it can create huge plays for the offense.

This play is a pretty simple one for the offense. They rush up to the line of scrimmage, get aligned quickly and snap the ball while the defense is still getting set up. That causes the defense to fail to fill a gap right up the middle. Forrest spots the issue and rushes up to try and fill the hole, but as he approaches the back, he uses bad tackling form again. He turns his head and dives at the feet of the back, who simply steps by him to dodge the tackle and walk in for an easy touchdown.

This isn’t to say Forrest was all bad in the run game. When he played closer to the line of scrimmage, knowing his priority was more run-orientated than pass, his athleticism and aggressive mentality helped him make some nice plays at times too. 

This time, Forrest aligns much closer to the line of scrimmage, with Cincinnati backed up in the red zone. The offense aligns in a pistol formation with two blockers either side of the quarterback and the running back behind him. Forrest fits this run fantastically. Both blockers work to the left side of the line to try and open up a lane for the running back by creating extra gaps. Forrest reads it quickly and aggressively drives towards the line of scrimmage to fill his gap. Not only does he fill his gap, he blows up his blocker, getting low enough to explode up into the block and break through the blocker to then make a tackle on the running back.

Overall, Forrest has a clear purpose that Washington drafted him for and that was to play special teams. 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.