clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Making the case: Emmanuel Forbes vs. Cam Smith

Which cornerback would be a better choice for the Giants?

Arkansas v Mississippi State Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The New York Giants could select a cornerback with their first-round selection at pick No. 25. Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr., and Maryland’s Deonte Banks will likely be gone by the Giants’ selection, leaving GM Joe Schoen in an interesting position.

Sure, the Giants could forgo selecting a cornerback and trust the development of Cor’Dale Flott alongside Adoree’ Jackson, who has a void year in his contract after the 2023 season. Even if Flott turns out to be a home run, there's little long-term depth at cornerback for the Giants, and Wink Martindale’s system is predicated on sticky-man coverage corners.

New York led the NFL in Cover-0 blitzes last season. The Giants blitzed on 39.7% of their defensive snaps, which ranked first overall in the league; the Cardinals were second at a 34.5% rate. South Carolina’s Cam Smith and Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes project well enough to Martindale’s scheme for different reasons.

Candidly, I have a very similar ranking on both of these players. I could go either way, but I believe the upside with one player is substantial due to difference-making NFL traits and potential. Let’s start with one of the bigger outliers being discussed in the top 50 picks - Emmanuel Forbes.

Emmanuel Forbes

Forbes tied the FBS record for pick-sixes with six throughout his career. Of the corners I’ve seen in the draft, Forbes has the best overall ball skills and is a very difficult player to track down once he secures the football. He was a former wide receiver at Grenada High School, which is obvious when watching his natural ability to pluck the ball out of the air.

A cornerback who knows how to create turnovers is crucial in the NFL, especially for a team that blitzes as much as Martindale’s defense. Quarterback’s clocks are accelerated, and Forbes has the athletic ability and length (6-foot-1, 32¼-inch arms with a 79-inch wingspan) to be a nuisance at the catch point in one-on-one situations.

Creating turnovers wins football games, and the Giants were tied with the Raiders for the least amount of interceptions last season, getting only six. Forbes would improve the Giants' likelihood of securing interceptions and giving the football back to Daniel Jones on a short field. That’s an invaluable trait to possess, and none of the Giants' current cornerbacks thrive with takeaways.

The outlier trait with Forbes is the weight - he’s only 166 pounds, placing him at a zero percentile weight by NFL standards. He’s very thin and a bit high-cut at the waist. However, his ball production in the SEC was very impressive. 14 interceptions and 20 passes defended.

Forbes made an immediate impact on Mississippi State as a freshman in 2020. He played over 700 snaps in three consecutive seasons for the Bulldogs, with a combined 57.6% catch rate. He was a Second-Team All-American in 2022, a Freshman All-SEC selection in 2020, and was Second-Team All-SEC in 2021. He played man and zone coverage for Mississippi State and had good man coverage tape against Alabama’s Jameson Williams in 2021. Here’s my synopsis:

Emmanual Forbes has the most pick sixes in FBS history - wow! Forbes is a ball-hawk with length and coverage versatility. His size at 166 pounds is concerning and is in the zero percentile for weight at the position; still, the 22-year-old offers immense upside for a player who has experience handling many different coverages and techniques at the LOS.

The Giants run a man-heavy pressure system that relies on cornerbacks winning outside. Forbes is the type of cornerback who can win outside, play tight man coverage, and take advantage of hustled throws because of his length, aggressive nature, and natural ball skills. I was surprised by how fluid Forbes was with his frame; his transitions aren’t always perfect on the horizontal plane, especially when tight in the hip pocket, but they were sufficient.

He’s not the strongest in run support or while tackling, but it’s not due to a lack of desire. Forbes is an elite competitor who comported himself well playing against some of the top players in the SEC. I do understand the weight concerns, but the NFL is transitioning to smaller - quicker - types of athletes. Is it still a concern, sure…but it’s not nearly as big of an issue as it would have been ten years ago.

Creating turnovers is the most important part of playing defense, and Forbes was elite in this manner throughout his three seasons at Mississippi State. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Forbes selected in the back end of the first round, despite his outlier weight. He should be a target for the Giants at pick 25.

I understand why some would be hesitant to invest two top-100 selections in the last two drafts on thin cornerbacks. I don’t think it’s unreasonable or foolish to feel that way when considering Forbes. However, I love the upside and the traits displayed by Forbes - it really just comes down to adding weight and strength to his game. I’ll say this terms of coverage, Forbes was stronger than I anticipated for a 166-pound cornerback.

Cam Smith

The Giants had Smith in for a top-30 visit earlier in April. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re interested in Smith - they may have just wanted more information on the junior, for he did not attend the all-star circuit due to his underclassman status. Still, his coverage ability leads me to believe the Giants are interested in his skill set.

Like Forbes, Smith was a four-star recruit according to 247 Sports. His 4.43 speed with a 1.49 ten-yard split was evident in his film - Smith has elite zero to one-hundred acceleration and burst from a stagnant position. I loved his ability to click and close on routes in front of him. Here is my synopsis:

Cam Smith is a versatile CB who is smart, smooth, and determined at the catch point. He’s equipped to play man coverage at the NFL level, and he was the leader of South Carolina’s defensive secondary. Smith’s burst and ability to close width allowed him to effectively play off-man against Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt in the slot during their 2022 matchup - Smith held him to 65 yards while playing as a nickel, despite most of his snaps being outside for the majority of his collegiate career.

His press technique leaves some to be desired, but his fluidity and sticky man coverage nature allowed him to stay in receiver’s hip pockets. His footwork can be cleaned up, but the alpha mentality, processing, and athletic traits are excellent translatable traits to a Wink Martindale defense.

If Smith can clean up his propensity to grab WRs (even when it’s not necessary) and his very inconsistent footwork in press coverage, then he has the potential to reach his very high ceiling as a CB1. Despite his physicality, he’s not a plus tackler, which is frustrating and inconsistent with how he battles receivers for the football at the catch point. Still, man coverage corners aren’t easy to find; there are a few solid ones in this class, and South Carolina’s Cam Smith is one of them.

Final thoughts

Forbes’ ability to create turnovers is an elite trait that can possibly mask the outlier weight in the eyes of some NFL evaluators. Although Forbes can play man coverage, Smith is stickier in man with cleaner transitions in and out of breaks. Smith holds when he doesn't have to and was penalized ten times in 2022, which is problematic.

I enjoy both of these players. Still, if I’m selecting one, I’m going with Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes. Jerome Henderson would help clean up a lot of deficiencies in technique with Smith’s game, but fixing Forbes’ size isn't correctable through technique.

Despite that, it wasn’t clear to me that Forbes was a liability as a run defender relative to Smith. He throws all his weight around with no provision - he’s a competitor through and through. Smith’s tackling technique was frustrating; he flies into the point of contact high and wild. Yes, Forbes is 166 pounds, but he wasn’t getting tossed around the football field by opposing players. Forbes only missed one game in his college career, whereas Smith has missed several; both players missed parts of a few different games, though.

I’m willing to bet on the traits and upside of Forbes even though he’s an outlier. Ideally, I would like the Giants to trade down and make this selection, instead of making the pick at No. 25, but we don’t live in an ideal world. I like both players, but give me Forbes if I’m picking between the two.