The identity of mystery draft sleeper, Prospect X
Last week, we profiled the most overlooked prospect in the 2019 NFL draft, but concealed his identity in order to protect the teams that were interested in him. Guesses from across the internet poured in. Now, we reveal the identity of ‘Prospect X,’ and talked to the team that drafted him...
Dessert is a marble sheet cake decorated with a map of the United States. A red dot marks the cities of each of the six NFL teams he visited with during the pre-draft process: Green Bay, New York (Jets), San Francisco, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Cleveland.
It’s now almost 3 p.m. Saturday and the sixth round of the draft is about to start. He and his significant other are getting nervous now. Sixty-five people are here for his draft party, waiting in the back room of a sports bar, and all eyes in the room are on him. He keeps his phone in his pocket and takes it out only a few times to check the time. There has already been one false alarm—a former teammate called to check in. He’s purposely trying not to watch the NFL Network broadcast, knowing that will just make the time go slower. He can’t help but let the thought creep in, What if I don’t get drafted?
His piece of cake finished, he now feels awkward that he hasn’t been picked, like he has an obligation to entertain all of his family and friends while they wait. His grandparents were so excited for the draft that they arrived an hour early—10 a.m. local time—that morning. NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt listed Prospect X as No. 105 in his top 150 players of the 2019 draft class, which would have made him a potential late-Day 2 pick. X wishes he never saw that list. He set his expectations too high.
Moments before the sixth round begins, X—in his second shirt of the day, he sweat through the first one (an eventuality his significant other anticipated)—gets a text from an Arizona Cardinals scout. We are trying to get you coming up soon. There are quite a few picks left. The Cardinals have the first pick of the sixth round, and X is convinced it will be him. His significant other is optimistic too, and hopeful—she didn’t pack a third shirt.
But his phone doesn’t ring. Soon, the Cardinals pick is in: Fresno State receiver KeeSean Johnson.
X is still hopeful because Green Bay, Cleveland and San Francisco are the teams most interested in him, and both the Packers and 49ers have multiple sixth-round picks. But the 49ers pass on him at Pick 176, and again at 183. Two picks later the Packers’ selection comes and goes, after which X tells his grandparents and relatives with young kids: “I know the kids are probably bored, so if you guys want to head out you are welcome to.”
A few minutes later the Browns are on the clock with Pick 189, the team’s only sixth-round pick. He thinks back to his visit to Cleveland. He felt like he really hit it off with Browns offensive line coach James Campen. Browns area scout Colton Chapple caught his attention at lunch after his pro day, when he told X that Cleveland doesn’t necessarily think he has to move to guard at the next level, they might give him a chance to develop at tackle—the Browns were the only team to tell him that. While in Cleveland, he passed Baker Mayfield in the hallway and was starstruck. Mayfield gave him a nod but X was too stunned to respond.
The phone in his pocket buzzes. The room, still full, falls silent.
The voice on the other end asks: Is this Drew Forbes?
Hold for John Dorsey.
As many correctly guessed—on Twitter, Reddit, and in MMQB Talkback emails, among other places—Prospect X is Drew Forbes, who played left tackle for Southeast Missouri State.
Forbes spent the last few days playing dumb when people asked him if he was Prospect X. A couple scouts joked to him when they called, “Hey is this Drew, or should I be asking for Prospect X?” On the morning the pre-draft article was published, he visited his chiropractor, a Sports Illustrated reader, who had already read the piece and put together all the clues. Hi, Prospect X!
Forbes's performance at the SEMO pro day solidified his status as a draftable prospect.
Courtesy of Southeast Missouri Athletics
Forbes grew up in Bonne Terre, Mo., a small town an hour south of St. Louis. The summer before he started his freshman year at SEMO, he met a girl at his best friend’s birthday party. He’s 6' 5" and she’s 6' 1"; Drew jokes that she was the only girl tall enough for him in the small town. While he went to SEMO in Cape Girardeau, she headed to the University of Missouri in Columbia, 225 miles away. But the they continued to date long-distance and, last June, got married. That’s his “significant other,” Emily Forbes.
Neither Drew nor Emily are the crying type, but Drew’s mother-in-law starts bawling when the pick is announced on the broadcast. Emily grew up on a beef farm, and for her mother the thought of the couple moving across the country to California was nerve-racking. For two country kids who have never lived outside Missouri, Cleveland feels Midwestern familiar, a city, but not too big of a city. Far enough from home, but still middle America.
After Drew hangs up the phone, his family and friends cheer and clap. He runs out to his truck for one more wardrobe adjustment—he brought the NFL team hats that he got during his visits, and a hoodie he got from Green Bay. He picks out the Browns hat and puts it on; it’s a good fit. The rest of the hats he gives away to his little cousins.
Drew’s 13-year-old brother, Brett, is outside the bar playing cornhole when Drew gets the call. Brett was born with spina bifida and has no feeling below his knees. He uses a wheelchair, but often walks around on his hulking arms, which are so muscular they rival his older brother’s. The Forbes are a family of athletes. Drew’s sister Holly signed a letter of intent to play Division-I basketball at Robert Morris University starting next season, and Brett travels all around the midwest playing wheelchair basketball. “Brett is by far the strongest of the three of us,” Drew says. The two brothers shared a bedroom growing up.
Sister Holly, Drew, wife Emily and brother Brett on draft day.
Courtesy the Forbes family
NFL teams will ask prospects a variation of the same question: Why do you play football? What motivates you? Drew’s answer is Brett. He talked about his brother in every conversation with coaches and scouts.
“He’s the driving force behind my motivation,” Drew says. “He wakes up every day and he is excited and he goes and kills life, he doesn’t let [spina bifida] be an excuse, therefore I have no excuse to let anything bring me down.”
Brett wants a selfie with nearly everyone at the party, so he can remember the day his big brother was drafted. Now that he has his Browns hat, Drew poses for pictures with friends and family. His face is red from being the center of attention for too many hours.
Drew and Emily are relieved—they’d been mentally preparing for undrafted free agency. “We were thinking all projections had been wrong,” Emily says, “no draft today.”
Drew’s agent, Brian Hamilton of Plan B Sports Management, wasn’t as worried as the couple was, even as the draft dragged on. Typically, if a player isn’t going to get drafted teams will start calling the agent to work out undrafted free agent deals on Saturday during the final three rounds. But Hamilton didn’t get a single call asking about Drew, not until Cleveland’s contract advisor called to alert him the Browns were going to pick him. He only got one text about Drew, from the Rams, who had been interested in getting Drew as a free agent should he go undrafted.
“He would never be a free agent,” Dorsey says now. “He is a draftable player. It’s the way he plays the game of football, he plays the game with a passion and a tenacity that is real.”
In fact, the reason the Browns took Forbes when they did, with their only sixth round pick, is because Dorsey knew he’d be gone if they waited for the seventh round. “There were three teams, five to 15 spots behind us, that were going to pick him,” he says.
Five spots after the Browns picked: Green Bay. Also inside that range: San Francisco, Atlanta and the Jets, three other teams Drew visited.
How does Dorsey know this? “I know what I know, that’s all I can tell you.” he says. “I just know things.”
On the day before the draft, Dorsey texted Forbes a link to a video. Forbes expected it to be a generic YouTube hype video, or a tour of the facility, or a copy-and-paste type of mass text that was obviously sent to a bunch of prospects, something he’d received from other teams who he suspected wanted him as a free agent. Hamilton told him that if teams were contacting him a lot, it probably meant they were trying to recruit him as a free agent.
Forbes clicked on the link, and Dorsey appeared on his screen. The general manager sat behind his desk wearing his iconic uniform—light gray Browns sweatshirt and baseball hat. “Hey Drew, this is John Dorsey, general manager of the Cleveland Browns. You ought to be congratulated for having an outstanding collegiate career.”
The video showed a picture of Drew run-blocking for SEMO, and Dorsey went on to wish him luck in the coming weeks ahead and explain what it means to be a Cleveland Brown. “We hope you have an opportunity to be a member of the Browns,” Dorsey said, before the video cut to Browns highlights.
“It got so real right then,” Drew says. “It may have been a video that went to a bunch of guys, but the fact that he said, ‘Hey Drew,’ at the beginning, that made it that much more personable and real.”
Dorsey wouldn’t specify how many prospects he sent videos to, but said, “I only send that video to people I like. If it came from me, that means that I think you’re hell of a football player.”
On his Browns visit, Forbes didn’t wear his typical suit and team color-coordinated tie because he picked up on a casual vibe at dinner with coaches and scouts the night before his interviews at the facility. Campen wore gym shorts and a sweatshirt to a restaurant where the cheapest thing on the menu was $36. So Forbes opted for khakis and a polo instead, never wearing his freshly purchased orange tie. He’d already taken the tags off before the visit, so it’s good thing Cleveland drafted him—he might have a chance to use it.
Drew enjoyed his visit with head coach Freddie Kitchens and Campen because it felt relaxed and low-key, not as stressful as some other meetings he’d had. In one film session with a coach from a different team, he was quickly taught the team’s lingo for defensive fronts and offensive line calls and then asked to regurgitate as much of the information, without using his notes, in just two minutes. The coach timed him and paced behind him while he scribbled furiously on the board. The Browns were not like that, and Campen was almost singularly focused on feeling out how Forbes would fit in the locker room, and finding out what kind of guy he is.
Dorsey says Campen’s high opinion of Forbes had a big influence on their decision to draft him; Dorsey trusts Campen’s eye. “I’ve been taught from the school of ‘evaluate the evaluators,’” Dorsey says. “And I have utmost respect for James Campen’s evaluation skills. Once I got confirmation that Campen was on board, I was on board with him as well.”
When evaluators described Forbes, the most common word was “nasty.” Emily finds it funny. “I don’t get why they use that word as a positive,” she says, “but everyone says he is so nasty.”
Drew the person is the opposite of nasty. He’s reserved, thoughtful and conscientious, a responsible perfectionist. On the day of his private workout on campus, he sent each coach the exact address of SEMO’s football stadium, and directions on where to park. When one coach was a few minutes late, he called him to check and see if he was having any trouble.
Of the 51 offensive tackles and guards who were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, only 29 were drafted. Forbes is one of 33 non-combine draftees this year.
“It has kept us hungry,” he says. “We’re just really ready to get this thing going.”
Forbes always uses “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “me.” Drew and Emily are an equal partnership.
“We are so happy that the Browns picked us, and they see in us what we see in ourselves,” Drew says. “And that is somebody who can come and contribute to a team and be a good teammate and put their head down and work.”
Though he played his entire college career at left tackle, most NFL teams think Forbes’s arms are too short to play tackle in the NFL, necessitating a move to guard. Dorsey isn’t so sure that’s the case. “He’s got incredible athleticism, so why not try him at left or right tackle?” Dorsey says. “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.”
Says Emily: “He is looking forward to playing guard, but he’s a tackle. He still loves tackle the most. He is not going to say that, but I will. He was so excited when Cleveland told him that, which is just another reason why Cleveland is perfect.”
Drew knows his NFL future will depend on his versatility, and how quickly he can adapt to what the Browns need from him. Campen gave Forbes this advice during his visit: You have to lose yourself to find yourself.
Drew can’t wait to play actual football again and Emily is thrilled to dive back into her planning. There’s a lot of organizing to do—finding an apartment, packing, moving. “I am so excited now that I have at least a little information to go off of for the next few months,” Emily says. “It is so good to have answers.”
On Thursday, Drew will fly to Cleveland for rookie mini-camp. As soon as Emily got the flight information, she wrote CLEVELAND in orange capital letters on their shared wall calendar and in the pages of her color-coded planner. The color orange used to mean “urgent” in Emily’s planning code. Now it takes on a new meaning
Here's the link to the podcast of why Kaylyn decided to do this story on Sports Illustrated's "Prospect X" candidate, Drew Forbes. Podcast is long nearly 30 mins.