KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The 2008 NFL Draft is widely regarded as the deepest class at the running back position in recent history.
And rightfully so when considering 2008 produced the likes of Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, Jonathan Stewart, Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Tim Hightower, Justin Forsett, among others.
Charles and Forte, of course, will be on opposing sidelines Sunday when the Chiefs host the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium.
The dynamic running backs won’t be on the playing field at the same time, but the admiration and respect Charles and Forte have for each other is clear.
“He’s very talented, he’s very versatile,” Charles said. “He’s very athletic – he can do more than one thing. He can go to wide receiver and run wheel routes and run fade routes; that’s the position of a running back going into the next level.”
Forte, the Bears’ second-round pick in 2008, returned the high praise Wednesday during a conference call with Chiefs beat writers.
“Definitely got to watch out for his speed in the run game and the passing game,” Forte said. “In the screen game, he’s dangerous. He’s dangerous all over the field. He’s a guy that you’ve always got to know where he’s at, at all times in the backfield and even split out as well.”
Bears coach John Fox agreed, adding Charles, the Chiefs’ third-round pick in 2008, hasn’t slowed down.
“I still see a guy that’s very explosive,” Fox said Wednesday in a conference call. “He can hit a home run any time at bat. I think he also runs with, you know, I don’t want to call him a small guy, but for an explosive, fast guy he runs with good playing strength.”
Versatility is what separates Charles, a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection, and Forte, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, from a majority of running backs of the 2008 class.
Forte, 29, is one of the league’s top receivers out of the backfield and he recorded a career-high 102 receptions in 2014. Forte entered the 2015 campaign averaging 63 catches a season.
The 28-year-old Charles, who posted a career-high 70 catches in 2013, used film on Forte to improve route running and offered a scouting report.
“He’s very patient on screens and coming out of the back field,” Charles said. “He looks the ball in, catches the ball and he’s a very good route runner. Some of the things that we looked at this offseason, that every running back takes some notes from, and what I took was just to be very patient when running my screens because he’s a very patient screen runner.”
To no surprise, Forte has even watched film on Charles to help prepare against common opponents.
“If we’re playing a team that he’s already played, I always watch what he’s done against them,” Forte said. “Just to see what hasn’t been successful against them, what open-field moves he’s used against them or if he just beat them with speed on the outside or whatever. I watch a lot of his tape.”
There won’t be any tape watching in Week 5, and this main event battle between two of the NFL’s premiere running backs will be viewed 100 percent live on the sidelines.
Forte said he often watches his defense whenever they take on the opposing offense, and he will be paying special attention Sunday given his ties to Charles.
“Obviously, going against Jamaal is a big thing, us being in the same draft class and still doing it after eight years,” Forte said. “I’ll be watching every play. Obviously, we’re playing against him, so I don’t want him to be real successful out there. I want to see what he does out on the field.”
Charles in return looks forward to watching Forte, but he also knows the Chiefs face a test defending against his counterpart.
“I’m happy to be able to compete with him this week,” Charles said. “He’s a friend of mine and the dude can play. The defense is up for a challenge that they probably haven’t seen for a while where a running back can do all the things I can do.”