Emmanuel Forbes is back in a regular role after getting benched for some early struggles, Quan Martin has his first NFL interception and K.J. Henry was noticeable in his first real opportunity to show what he could do in the pros.
It took halfway through the season, but the Washington Commanders are finally getting some meaningful contributions from their rookies.
That's good for a team that's still in the mix for an NFC wild-card spot at 4-5 — but even better for the future of the franchise if this year's draft class pans out how the front office hoped.
“You’re starting to see the growth and development,” coach Ron Rivera said Monday in the aftermath of his team's 20-17 victory at New England. “Those young guys are coming along pretty well. If these young guys play and grow and develop, things bode well as we go further down the line.”
The spotlight is the brightest on Forbes, Washington's first-round pick who has experienced some serious growing pains — most notably, getting torched by Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown in a Week 4 loss to Philadelphia. After not playing at all in Week 6 at Atlanta, the cornerback out of Mississippi State played 75% of the defensive snaps against the Patriots.
“He played with a little bit more confidence,” Rivera said. “He’s doing a lot of the things that we asked for. (But) he’s got a ways to go. There’s some detail things that he has to pay attention to, he must pay attention to, if he’s going to be a really good player in this league.”
Forbes said he had to “learn and grow” from getting benched. The 22-year-old figured out how to not take it personally and go to work each day to hone his craft.
The same goes for Martin, a second-round pick who was excelling on special teams but had yet to carve out a spot in the secondary until the Patriots game. His ability to move around from safety to cornerback to even the “buffalo nickel" position makes him a potentially versatile piece moving forward.
“He’s a really good blitzer, so we see some growth and development opportunities for him there,” Rivera said. “That’s something we might need to take a look at as to whether you use him a little bit more as a blitzer.”
Henry, too, after the fifth-rounder got an opportunity in the wake of the Commanders trading away pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Henry sacked Mac Jones and was flagged for a questionable roughing the passer penalty, but his ability to get to the quarterback is a positive development.
The offense is clicking thanks to the continued growth of second-year quarterback Sam Howell. Washington put together back-to-back 400-yard games for the first time since 2020.
It helps that a revamped offensive line is protecting Howell better after he was sacked a league-high 40 times through the first seven games. Tyler Larsen replacing Nick Gates at center and Chris Paul sliding in at left guard for injured former starter Saahdiq Charles has made all the difference.
“They’re very stout," Rivera said. “They're both 330 (pounds), so there's a lot of girth between our two guards and our center.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The defense has allowed 300 or more yards in eight of nine games this season. That's not sustainable if Washington hopes to get in — and stay in — the playoff race.
With Young and Sweat gone, Henry, seventh-rounder Andre Jones, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill are being counted on at defensive end. Inside, Washington would love for defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne to produce more.
“It’s just one of those things that you just continue to work through it and work through it and those numbers will come,” Rivera said of Payne having just one sack this season. “But it’s really not about the numbers as much as it’s about the impact.”
Howell is starting to get the hang of things. He’s the first QB in franchise history to throw for 2,500 yards in 10 or fewer games, the 12th in NFL history to do so and the first since Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert in 2020.
Allen said Sunday he thought Washington found its quarterback for the next five to 10 years. It's probably too early to make that declaration, and the next regime in charge might have a different viewpoint, but Howell certainly is showing nice potential.
The play of Larsen is not encouraging for Gates, a free agent signing from the New York Giants who got a three-year contract last offseason. Rivera lauded Larsen for how stable a veteran he is, and it's hard to see Gates getting a starting job back unless Larsen gets injured.
Linebacker Cody Barton is on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. ... Rookie offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg remains out with a right knee injury. ... Wide receiver Curtis Samuel's status is uncertain because of an injured toe.
24 — The number of yards for which Howell ran on third-and-23 to get a first down against New England. He and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes are the only QBs this season to to rush for a first down on third-and 20 or more.
The Commanders will try to string together consecutive wins when they visit the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Seattle, coming off a 37-3 loss at Baltimore, is a 6-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press