Our Jeff Risdon knows Forbes’ game well from his days covering the Browns. Here are his thoughts on the new Lions lineman.
The Detroit Lions unexpectedly added another offensive lineman to the active roster when the team claimed Drew Forbes off the waiver wire on Monday. Forbes joins the Lions after being waived by the Cleveland Browns in some roster shuffling on that squad.
Forbes joins the Lions and rejoins the man who drafted him in the sixth round in 2019 in Cleveland, Lions special assistant John Dorsey. I was in Browns training camp for several practices that year and saw Forbes firsthand, and did again in the summer of 2021 for a couple of practices.
What are the Lions getting in Forbes?
To start, let’s go back to Dorsey’s days as the Browns GM. Dorsey was instantly attracted to Forbes as an under-the-radar prospect at FCS-level Southeast Missouri State. Despite little national attention, Forbes got something of a cult following amongst hardcore OL draftniks for his outstanding athleticism and physical dominance.
Dorsey was the most notable fan. He personally attended Forbes’ pro day in 2019. Forbes, all 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds of him, did not get any postseason all-star game invites or a trip to the scouting combine.
Dorsey and the scouts from a handful of other teams–one of them the Los Angeles Rams, whose scouting department was run by now-Lions GM Brad Holmes–witnessed a fantastic workout. Forbes ran a 4.87 40-yard dash, a 30-inch vertical jump and a great short shuttle and 3-cone drill performance.
Forbes was even the subject of a Sports Illustrated feature called “Prospect X”, which profiled an anonymous small-school prospect and the hype growing around him.
Here’s what Dorsey said after drafting Forbes, who played left tackle in college but was projected in Cleveland at right tackle or right guard,
“He’s got incredible athleticism, so why not try him at left or right tackle? If that doesn’t work, then move inside, I mean that’s how you do the offensive line. Let them see what their natural position is and then move forward. He is a very athletic and talented guy who is mature, tenacious, and smart.”
In his rookie training camp in 2019, Forbes competed for the starting RG position with the Browns. The athleticism was obvious, but so was the lack of high-level experience and technical polish. The competition ended for Forbes, ironically enough, when he injured his knee in Detroit in the final preseason game and went on IR after the initial roster cutdowns (the Browns temporarily released starting LT Greg Robinson to sneak Forbes onto the 53-man roster).
Forbes returned late in the year but played sparingly and only on special teams. He was active for just two games. Then came 2020.
The pandemic year. Limited interactions, no hands-on training or coaching. Forbes opted out for the season, one of four Browns players to exercise their option to sit out 2020 without any penalty due to COVID-19.
When Forbes returned in 2021, everything in Cleveland had changed. Wyatt Teller, who the Browns traded for from Buffalo when Forbes got hurt, quickly developed into an All-Pro-caliber right guard. Dorsey was gone, as was OL coach James Campen and head coach Freddie Kitchens. The Browns changed offensive schemes to a more outside-zone run style and the greenhorn Forbes did not adapt quickly.
Cleveland briefly toyed with trying Forbes back at tackle, but he just couldn’t handle the speed of the game on the edge. While a very impressive athlete, Forbes’ physical prowess didn’t easily translate to the NFL field. He became something of a guard/tackle tweener–not strong enough to play guard, not fast enough to play tackle. He was reliably adequate, nothing more, in pass protection at guard. Forbes really struggled to engage targets in the run game and had a bad tendency to rise straight up and lose leverage when he did.
He wasn’t bad. But Forbes was technically raw and not progressing nearly as quickly as hoped. Coming off a playoff win and completely set at his position, Forbes’ development wasn’t a priority for Cleveland and it showed.
The Browns shuffled in several new offensive linemen and Forbes never really progressed following the opt-out season. The lost year of reps and then another knee injury in 2021 stunted his development
Now Forbes is back with the man who once saw a potential starter in him in Dorsey. The Lions have an exceptional OL coach in Hank Fraley, who has done a great job developing young talents like (former Browns C) Evan Brown and UDFA guard Tommy Kraemer a year ago. The combination of confidence in the young athlete and technical skills development is worth a shot for the Lions. But Forbes is starting out from the bottom of the depth chart at both guard and tackle.
Personally I hope the Lions try to make Forbes happen at tackle. He’s lacking the great length the team prefers, but the physical tools are there to handle pass protection in a swing role. Detroit is weaker at reserve tackle than guard, too.
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