NFL Beast

The Best Damn NFL News Site Ever!

The Commanders’ Armchair GM: Comparing Washington’s Roster to a Championship Contender – Defensive Secondary and Roster Summary

16 min read

#NFLBeast #NFL #NFLTwitter #NFLUpdate #NFLNews #NFLBlogs

#Washington #FootballTeam #WashingtonFootballTeam #WFT #NFC #HogsHaven

By: MattInBrisVegas

Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Who are the cornerstone pieces? How much work is there to do?

In the first three Editions of the Armchair GM, I reviewed the rosters of the 10 Super Bowl teams from 2018 through 2022, and compared them to the Commanders’ current roster on offense and the defensive “front seven”. To complete the series, in the final edition I looked at the defensive secondary and will conclude with a whole roster summary. Expalanations of the overall approach to player evaluation and the player grades can be found by following the links above to the previous two articles of the series.

Evaluating players who spend a significant amount of playing time in pass coverage presents particular challenges. For reasons I will get into below, I don’t believe that the usual statistics cited for defensive backs (INTs, PDs, reception rate, opposing passer rating, yards and TDs allowed) are adequate metrics of coverage performance. This is particularly the case for cornerbacks, who make their livings in primary coverage, where lockdown ability is of primary importance. I have attempted to make up for some of the deficiencies of the usual metrics by using some less familiar stats, and by converting cumulative stats into productivity stats.

Safety is the most varied position in today’s nickel-heavy defenses. Since many safeties are more involved in run defense and spend less time in primary coverage, I used a combination of the stats I used for CBs and those I used for LBs to span the range of position responsibilities, without turning this into a PhD thesis.

Super Bowl Team Profile – Defensive Secondary: Minimum of three Red players

Washington Commanders v New York Jets
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images


Cornerbacks are the most challenging players to grade with conventional production-based statistics. The reason for that is that perfect performance causes them to disappear from the stat sheet, taking the receivers they are covering with them. I have argued previously, and will repeat it here, that the most important responsibility of a CB is to prevent receivers from getting open and drawing targets. That is particularly true for a CB1, assigned to cover an opponent’s primary receiver. Available statistics only allow us to see lock-down ability indirectly.

The stats that are normally cited to rate CBs, including Passes Defended, Interceptions, Reception Rate, Receiving Yards Allowed, and derived metrics like opposing Passer Rating, all measure what happens when the CB fails to prevent targets. These are still important aspects of CB play, but can be misleading when viewed out of context.

To provide a wholistic view of how the Commanders’ CB compare to the rest of the league, I have used a broad range of stats, grouped into three conceptual categories: Prevention, Containment and Pass Defense. I have also stuck with Stop Rate as a measure of overall defense, because CBs contribute in other ways when they aren’t in coverage.

The rationale for the coverage stats is as follows:


To help illuminate lock-down ability, I included Per Snap Target Rate (Snaps/Target) in the grading. The rate at which a CB’s receiver is targeted is only an indirect reflection of lock-down coverage, because it is influenced by several factors, most notably whether he is covering the QB’s primary read and whether there are easier options to target elsewhere in the secondary. Even so, it is a useful indicator, and provides a pretty good metric of who the better CBs are on its own. To illustrate that point, the top 5 CBs by Snaps/Target in 2023 were: Patrick Peterson 10.9, Sauce Gardner 10.8, Jaylon Johnson 10.1, Derek Stingley Jr. 9.6, Joey Porter Jr 9.5). Those are some good players.

Per Snap Target Rate was only used for grading CBs in coverage, because it is less relevant to defenders who spend less time in primary coverage, including safeties and linebackers.


Of course, it is not possible to completely shut down NFL passing offenses, so the next thing to consider is how productive (or unproductive) the opponent is when targeting a CB in coverage. The primary containment metrics used in my grading were Yardage Per Target (Y/Tgt) and Per Snap Reception Rate (snaps per reception, Snp/Rec). Yardage Per Target is a reflection of how effective the CB is at preventing receptions when targeted, which is partially reflected by the familiar stat Reception Rate in coverage (Rec%), as well as the CB’s ability to contain large gains, which is indicated by Yards Per Reception (Y/R). In addition to the CB’s coverage, Reception Rate in coverage is also heavily influenced by Average Depth of Target (ADOT), so I have shown that as well to help readers make sense of the containment stats.

Pass Defense

The final consideration in grading is how effective the CB is at making plays on the ball when his receiver is targeted. To measure CB’s performance at defending passes, I used the PFF Premium stat Forced Incompletion Rate (FI%), total Pass Defense Rate (PD%) and Interception Rate (Int%).

Commanders’ Players:

Benjamin St-Juste

Age 26, 4th year, 16 starts in 2023, 2024 cap hit $1.6 million, under contract through 2024

Grade: JAG

St-Juste got about around average playing time for a starting boundary CB. He was targeted well more than average and was right on the average in depth of target. He was the only one of the Commanders’ CBs with a lower than average overall Stop Rate on defense.

St-Juste’s Target Rate in coverage was well above median (as indicated by low Coverage Snaps/Target), meaning that he was picked on by opposing QBs relatively heavily. He was worse than average for a starting CB in both Reception Rate in coverage (Rec%) and Yardage per Reception, resulting in him allowing above average Yardage Per Target. He also allowed a higher than average Per Snap Reception Rate (Snp/Rec; lower numbers indicate higher reception rates – I know, it gets confusing). The only aspects of Prevention and Containment where St-Juste was average for a starting boundary CB was Touchdown Rate (TD%) in coverage. He was worse than average in every other stat.

St. Juste was actually better than the average starter at Pass Defense. His Forced Incompletion Rate and total Pass Defense Rate were both significantly higher than the average starter. The latter was mainly due to having higher than average pass breakups (17), since his Interception Rate was lower than average. Unfortunately for St-Juste, his deficiency was in interceptions, which is the one aspect of Pass Defense that can potentially offset below average performance in Prevention and Containment.

Another weakness of St-Juste’s game that deserves mention is penalties. St-Juste drew 11 penalties, of which 2 were declined, tying him with Derion Kendrick as the 4th most penalized CB in the NFL.

Kendall Fuller

*FREE AGENT* Age 29, 9th year, 15 starts in 2023, OTC valuation $12.1 million APY

Grade: Red

Fuller got slightly less playing time than St-Juste, but had significantly fewer targets in coverage. In fact, he was targeted at a much lower rate than either of the Commanders’ other two boundary corners. That might be because he was more effective at preventing receivers getting separation, because Jack Del Rio sometimes chose not to assign him to cover opponents’ primary receivers, or because opposing teams chose to target weaker players in the secondary. It was probably a combination of all three. The end result is that he had significantly lower than average Per Snap Target Rate for a starting CB.

In addition to Prevention, Fuller also excelled in most aspects of Containing opposing receivers. While his Reception Rate per target (Rec%) in coverage was higher than the average starting CB, he allowed lower than average Yardage Per Reception, resulting in lower than average Yardage Per Target. Perhaps more importantly, he also allowed a lower Per Snap Reception Rate in coverage (Snp/Rec) than the average starting CB, despite allowing a higher Reception Rate, because his receivers were targeted less frequently than average. The net result of all of these factors is that Fuller was significantly better than the average starting CB at limiting the yardage gained by receivers in his coverage on a per snap or per down basis.

Of course, part of that could be due to opposing defenses opting to target receivers covered by the Commanders’ other defensive backs. To tease out how much of Fuller’s low Target Rate, and flow on effects to Containment stats, is due to blanket coverage, it would be helpful to know his average separation allowed. Sadly, that data does not appear to be readily available for NFL defenders.

Fuller’s biggest weakness was giving up touchdowns in coverage. His Touchdown Rate allowed in coverage ranked 15th among 124 CBs and tied with teammate Emmanuel Forbes. Since his TD total (9) was significantly higher than any other season, that might be a function of the breakdown of the Commanders’ secondary in 2023 as a whole.

Fuller was less productive than the other CBs in Pass Defense. But he didn’t have to be, because his receivers were targeted less than the others. He was a little below average for a starter in Forced Incompletion Rate and total Pass Defense Rate. But he was slightly above average in the most important Pass Defense metric, Interception Rate.

While he didn’t have eye popping pass breakup and interception stats, Fuller was better than the average starter at preventing the receivers he was covering from making major gains. However, in 2023 his effectiveness at preventing TDs declined.

Emmanuel Forbes

Age 23, 2nd year, 6 starts in 2023, 2024 cap hit $1.45 million, under contract through 2026

Grade: JAG

First the positive, Forbes was very good at making plays in run support and making plays on the ball in coverage, which resulted in a much better than average overall Stop Rate for a starting CB.

He was also the most picked-on of the Commanders’ CBs in coverage, and it didn’t help matters that Jack Del Rio chose to assign the rookie to cover lead receivers like A.J. Brown and D.J. Moore. In fact, he was subjected to the 6th highest Per Snap Target Rate of 124 CBs who played a minimum of 350 snaps.

His Reception Rate allowed in coverage was the lowest of the Commanders’ starters, but that is to be expected, since he had the highest Average Depth of Target. His biggest weakness was vulnerability to giving up explosive receptions, resulting in the 4th highest Yardage Per Reception out of 124 CBs and the 15th highest TD Rate. In fact, his average reception allowed in coverage meets the usual definition of an explosive passing play (greater than 15 yards). His vulnerability to giving up long receptions resulted in him having the 5th highest Yardage Per Target of 124 CBs.

In addition, because he was targeted so frequently, he allowed the 12th highest Per Snap Reception Rate out of 124 CBs, despite having a decent reception rate in coverage on a per target basis (Rec %).

As a result of drawing a very high Per Snap Target Rate and giving up long receptions, Forbes ranked in the bottom 12 CBs in pass Containment, measured on both a per target and a per snap basis, and bottom 15 in scoring defense.

As expected when he was drafted, Forbes was better than the average starting CB in all three measures of Pass Defense. His Forced Incompletion Rate was more than 50% higher than the average CB1 (approximated by the Top 32 CBs). Furthermore, his Pass Defense Rate was the second highest in the league, mainly due to a very high rate of pass breakups.

If Forbes can figure out how to contain the explosive plays, he could become a good CB. But based on his rookie season performance, I would have to rate that as a longshot.

Quan Martin

Age 23, 2nd year, 5 starts in 2023, 2024 cap hit $1.74 million, under contract through 2026

Grade: JAG

Quan Martin split his time 55:45 between CB (mainly slot) and safety, so I graded him in each section. He had the highest overall Stop Rate of the CBs, but that is probably due to spending 45% of his time playing safety. Even so, he was no slouch at stopping offenses short, ranking 7th among 124 CBs, which would have included many other nickel CBs with similar responsibilities.

Martin had the lowest Per Snap Target Rate of any of the Commanders’ CBs. However, that figure is likely deflated (higher when expressed as Snaps/Target) by the fact he spent 45% of his playing time at box and free safety, with less time in primary coverage. Even so, he had the 12th lowest Target Rate of 124 CBs, including many other players with similar responsibilities.

Like St-Juste and Forbes, Martin was weak in pass Containment. He allowed the 3rd highest reception rate in coverage, which might be explained to some extent by having one of the lowest ADOTs in the league. But he also allowed higher than average Yardage Per Reception, resulting in the 4th highest Yardage Per Target of 124 CBs. His Per Snap Reception Rate was the second lowest of the Commanders’ CBs, but that is mainly due to the fact that he had the lowest Target Rate, due to splitting time at safety. Quan also allowed a high Touchdown Rate in coverage.

Like St-Juste and Forbes, Quan had better Pass Defense stats than the average NFL starting CB, however, he was very leaky in coverage when his receivers were targeted.

Danny Johnson

*FREE AGENT* Age 28, 7th year, 0 starts in 2023, valuation unavailable

Grade: JAG-

Johnson played limited snaps in a backup capacity. When he was on the field, his Stop Rate was actually higher than the average starting CB. In coverage, his Target Rate was right on the medians for starting CBs.

While he may have performed well at preventing his receivers from getting open, things did not go well when they were targeted. His main Containment stats place him among the worst CBs in coverage in the NFL. His Yardage Per Target would have been 4th worst in the league if he had qualified for ranking, due to an above average Reception Rate (Rec%) in coverage and very high Yardage Per Reception. Unlike St-Juste, Forbes and Martin, Johnson did not even partially make up for his deficiencies in Containment with Pass Defense.

Depth: Christian Holmes (contract through 2025), Tariq Castro-Fields (contract through 2024), Kyu Blu Kelly (contract through 2026), Nick Whiteside (contract through 2024)

Position Group Summary: The Commanders’ 2023 starting CBs came in essentially two flavors. Kendall Fuller was better than the average starting CB at containing production from receivers in his coverage. Some of that may be due to opposing offenses choosing to pick on easier targets elsewhere in the secondary. In 2023, he allowed more TDs in coverage than he has previously. He did not make a high rate of plays on the ball. Benjamin St-Juste, Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin made a lot of plays on the ball, but also allowed the receivers they were covering to be more productive than the average starting CB. Danny Johnson was terrible.

Washington Commanders v New England Patriots
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images


Safety is the most variable role on NFL defenses. Like many teams, the Commanders moved their safeties around a fair bit.

Safeties spend less time in primary coverage and more time in run defense than CBs, so the stats used to grade them are combination of those used for CBs and linebackers, with fewer coverage stats. Quan Martin, who straddled the boundary between CB and S, is covered in both sections.

Kamren Curl

*FREE AGENT* Age 25, 5th year, 16 starts in 2023, Valuation Spotrac $14.4M, OTC $5.1M

Grade: RED

Curl split time almost evenly between box (428 snaps) and free (422 snaps) safety in 2023, and spent significant time covering TEs in the slot (166 snaps). He was second on the team in total tackles, after Cody Barton.

Curl was better than the average starting safety at making stops. His overall Stop Rate was above average of the Top 32 and 64 “starters” and ranked 23rd out of 96 safeties. His Run Stop rate was right on average for a starter, as was his Missed Tackle rate.

Curl was around average to a little below average for a starting safety in pass coverage. His Yardage Per Target allowed in coverage was exactly on average; while his Per Snap Reception rate allowed and TD rate were both somewhat worse than average for starters. In Pass Defense, his Forced Incompletion Rate was a hair above average, while his total Pass Defense Rate and Interception Rate were both well below average.

Since Curl is primarily a box safety, with versality to slide into coverage, I weighted his overall Stop Rate and Run Stop Rate more heavily than his coverage stats. As a result, he just gets over the line as a Red.

Percy Butler

Age 23, 3rd year, 13 starts in 2023, 2024 cap hit $1.18 million, under contract through 2025

Grade: JAG

Butler mainly played free safety in 2023 (543 snaps), but also played a little in the box (155 snaps) and the slot (129 snaps).

Butler struggled to make stops on defense. His Stop Rate and Run Stop Rate were both below average for a starter and his Missed Tackle Rate was the 9th highest among 96 safeties.

In coverage, Butler was better than average for a starter in Per Snap Reception Rate allowed. However, he was vulnerable to giving up big plays, resulting in well above average Yardage Per Target, and the third highest TD Rate among 96 safeties. Butler’s good performance in limiting receptions resulted from having the fourth highest Forced Incompletion Rate and a good overall Pass Defense Rate. However, those positives were offset by his propensity to give up big gains and TDs.

Butler showed some good things in coverage that a new coaching staff might be able to build on. However, given his poor tackling and vulnerability to giving up big plays, it is hard to project him above a JAG at this point.

Quan Martin

Age 23, 2nd year, 5 starts in 2023, 2024 cap hit $1.74 million, under contract through 2026

Grade: Pink

When he wasn’t covering the slot, Martin split time almost equally between box (78 snaps) and free (77 snaps) safety. He struggled early in his rookie season, but flashed ability with more playing time.

Martin grades as one of the best safeties in the NFL at making snaps on defense, ranking 4th in overall Stop Rate and 9th in Run Stop Rate. Nevertheless, his Missed Tackle Rate was also very high.

In coverage, he was worse than average in every aspect of Pass Containment. However, he was much better than the average starting safety in every aspect of Pass Defense, and had the 2nd highest overall Pass Defense Rate of 96 safeties.

As a box safety, Martin has demonstrated very good ability to make stops and make plays on the ball against the pass. However, he was exposed in coverage. If used correctly, he has potential to become an above-average starter.

Darrick Forrest

Age 24, 4th year, 5 starts in 2023, 2024 cap hit $3.19 million, under contract through 2024

Grade: JAG

Forrest played in only 5 games before a season ending shoulder fracture. He spent most of his time at free safety (193 snaps), but also spent significant time in the box (84 snaps) and covering the slot (42 snaps).

Counterintuitively for a free safety, Forrest had a very high Run Stop Rate, but was worse than average in overall Stop Rate. He had the highest Missed Tackle Rate of the Commanders’ safeties, and the 7th highest miss rate of 96 safeties.

Forrest was much better than the average starter in Yardage Per Target and Per Snap Reception Rate allowed in coverage. He also allowed a higher than average TD Rate in coverage. However, that was only based on 1 TD, so it might be a fluke due to small sample size.

Forrest did not record any Pass Defense stats (forced incompletions, interceptions, pass breakups) in 2023. In 2022, he was a little below average in Forced Incompletion Rate, and above average in interceptions and pass breakups.

Overall, Forrest grades as an average starter at free safety with strength in deep coverage and run defense and below average tackling.

Depth: None. 2023 backup Terrell Burgess and All Pro ST ace/backup safety Jeremy Reaves are free agents.

Position Group Summary: Kam Curl is a solid Red box safety with the versatility to play at an adequate starting level in coverage. He is now a free agent. Darrick Forrest is a solid, average level starter at free safety, with versatility to move closer to the line of scrimmage and cover the slot when needed. Quan Martin struggled in coverage, particularly early in his rookie season, but flashed potential to become a Red box safety. The Commanders lack a true single-high free safety, with the capability to spend significant time covering wide receivers on deep routes. This weakness was exposed in 2023 when the entire secondary showed vulnerability to explosive passing plays.

Roster Summary

The grading of the secondary concludes my review of the Commanders’ roster. The following table summarizes the grades in the last three articles and compares the Commanders’ roster to the average of 10 recent Super Bowl teams. Only players currently under contract are included.

In round numbers, the average Super Bowl team over the past five years had 16 above average to elite players on their starting roster. The Commanders enter the 2024 offseason with just 5 above average starters and no elite players.

Certain positions are more demanding of talent than others. Most notable of those are QB and OT. In the five seasons from 2018 through 2022, no team made it to the Super Bowl without at least a Red player at QB and 9/10 teams had a QB playing at elite level in their Super Bowl season. Similarly, in this period no team made a Super Bowl with a JAG playing either OT position. Unfortunately for the Commanders, their current roster does not have a Red player at any of those positions.

I have generously graded Sam Howell as a Pink, but it is doubtful that any but his most diehard fans would rate his chance of turning Red as being much better than a longshot. It would seem unlikely that the team will not make significant moves at QB, as well as OT this offseason.

Other position groups that seem to demand high end talent are DL/Pass Rush, Defensive Secondary, and Offsenive Skill positions. The current Commanders’ roster only provides Adam Peters with five of the 13 building blocks he will need at those positions to construct a championship contender, with only three more young depth players who have flashed potential to possibly emerge as plus starters.

Two of the Red players in starting roles on the 2023 roster have hit free agency. If the team can re-sign Kendall Fuller and Kam Curl on cap-friendly deals, it would help to reduce the amount of work Peters will have to do this offseason. Even so, he is going to be very busy for the next few years as he seeks to add around 11 new above average to elite starters, including a QB and two OTs.

Originally posted on Hogs Haven