With the exception of players who are built like Jerome Bettis, running backs in the NFL tend to have a specific shelf life, and at 28-years-old (29 in December) Matt Forte has a limited amount of time left as an impact player. While Forte is a beast and should continue to be a force this year, his time as an elite back in the NFL will likely be over before fans realize it.
Behind Forte on the depth chart is rookie fourth round draft pick Ka’Deem Carey. Can Carey pick up the torch when Forte’s reign is over? That remains to be seen, but for this season Carey just needs to prove that he can be a capable backup. If scouting reports are to be believed though, Carey may turn into one of the steals of the 2014 NFL Draft and quite possibly has the potential to be Forte’s successor.
According to the CBS pre-draft scouting report, Carey sounds like a near-perfect NFL running back, at least as far as his strengths are concerned:
- Muscled-up athlete with good instincts, light feet, good leg drive and the determination to handle a featured role as a team’s primary runner in the NFL.
- Good recognition of the hole, showing the burst to and through gaps to take advantage when the avenue is clear.
- Also possesses the vision to recognize cut-back lanes and the jump-cut ability to quickly re-direct.
- Accelerates smoothly, showing enough speed to break into open field for long-gains. Sets up safeties with subtle shoulder-fakes to make defenders miss while operating at full-speed.
- Repeatedly lunges forward, spinning as necessary to fight through hits and generate impressive yards after the contact.
- Recognizes where the sticks are and shows rare determination in fighting to reach the marker.
- Improved maturity is also evident in his pass protection, where Carey ranks among the best in the class. Good awareness to locate blitzing defenders. Squares his shoulders and delivers a forceful blow or effective cut-block.
- Possesses soft hands to gather in passes and secures the ball quickly.
That scouting report not only proclaims that Carey can be a productive three-down back in the NFL, it also sounds eerily familiar to Matt Forte. Now on to Carey’s weaknesses:
- While Carey’s determined running is commendable he has to know when to go down, too often exposing himself and the ball to unnecessary hits by lunging forward and too often leaving his feet.
- Does not possess elite breakaway speed.
- Success comes in Rich Rodriguez’s offense which has led to others enjoying great success that hasn’t translated into NFL production.
- NFL teams will want to do a thorough investigation into Carey’s character after several reported run-ins with authorities during his collegiate career. The most well-documented of them was a disorderly conduct and assault charge against his ex-girlfriend (who was pregnant at the time), which ultimately was dropped.
The first bullet doesn’t even sound like a weakness, as a player who will fight for every last yard is a player you want on your team. Also, we can be sure that the Bears checked into Carey’s off-the-field problems and that should not be an issue moving forward, although you never know as far as NFL players go. As far as the scheme he had success with in college, something tells me that Mark Trestman can get just as much out of Carey as Rich Rodriguez. The only legitimate knock on Carey’s game appears to be his lack of breakaway speed.
To be sure, Carey’s 40-yard dash time of 4.69 at the combine is less than inspiring and is the main reason why he fell to the Bears in the fourth round. While his 40-time stands out like a sore thumb, the proof is in the production for Carey. In a very competitive Pac-12 conference Carey entered the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2012 and led the FBS in both rushing yards (1,929) and in rush yards per game (148.4) on 6.4 yards per carry. During that season, Carey had a five touchdown performance against Colorado and set a Pac-12 single game rushing record with 366 yards. In 2013, Carey had two four-touchdown games and ended his three-year college career with a total of 4,239 rushing yards with 48 touchdowns and 5,483 all-purpose yards.
At 5-foot-9, 207 pounds Carey does not have the prototypical size of a three down NFL running back, but try telling that to Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD is even shorter at 5-foot-7 and weighs 210 pounds but has carved out an incredibly productive career as a back that has been leaned on heavily for a Jacksonville team lacking any semblance of a passing game.
Ka’Deem Carey may not have the blazing speed of Chris Johnson, or even that of Matt Forte, but that reason alone may be why the Bears had the opportunity to draft him. Some experts proclaimed Carey as the best back in the draft, while others have said that at the very least he possesses the best vision of all rookie running backs, in addition to a high football IQ.
The bottom line with Carey is that he seems to check every box that the Bears look for in their lead running backs: he possesses good hands to catch the ball out of the backfield, picks up blitzes and is a sound blocker, fights for extra yards with strong leg drive, and excels at locating the hole and hitting it with power. Ka’Deem Carey looks to possess all the traits of a three-down back and can hopefully be eased into the Bears offense before eventually taking over for Matt Forte.