MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Charles Sims wasn’t fond of making comparisons to his peers or elders.
He didn’t like to say or to hear that he played like one player or that another did the same things he did. Yet even he couldn’t help but smile and nod his head when he was mentioned with Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte.
“I’d say that’s accurate,” he said. “We’re both guys who are able to be versatile, catch the ball out of the backfield, line up at receiver, run the ball between the tackles.”
So it made a lot of sense when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted the West Virginia star in the third round of the NFL draft last week. Lovie Smith coaches the Buccaneers now. He coached the Bears from 2004-12 and drafted Forte in the first round in 2008. Tim Spencer was Chicago’s running backs coach, and he’s on Smith’s staff at Tampa Bay now.
The similarities are valid, too. At the draft combine, Sims checked in at 6-foot and 214 pounds. Forte was 6-2 and 217 pounds in 2008. Sims ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, Forte in 4.44. Sims touched 37 inches in the vertical jump, Forte 33. Sims cleared 10 feet, 6 inches in the broad jump, Forte 9 feet, 10 inches.
Sims tied for the team lead with 45 receptions, in addition to giving the Mountaineers their first 1,000-yard rusher in four seasons. Forte has never caught fewer than 44 passes in a season and led all rookie running backs in receptions in 2008.
Yet the name that ties this all together is one no one has mentioned: Jeff Tedford. The former Cal coach is Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator.
“He’s no different than most — he wants fast guys, he wants athletic guys, he wants guys that can catch the ball,” general manager Jason Licht said. “He wants to be versatile, he wants to keep teams off-balance. It kind of starts at the root — they’ve got to run and they’ve got to be able to catch. They’ve got to be able to be versatile in this offense.”
Smith and Tedford had their eyes on Sims and pulled the trigger even after taking a receiver and a tight end in the first and second rounds and having three other running backs under contract for next season, including 2012 first-round pick Doug Martin. Sims nevertheless fits for various reasons.
“Very effective on third down, but he also has a first- and second-down skill set, too,” Licht said. “When you can find a back that has all three, the versatility to play on all three downs, it’s a rarity nowadays.”
Tedford is known as a quarterbacks guru — he tutored first-round picks Trent Dilfer and David Carr at Fresno State, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington at Oregon and Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers at Cal — but he’s been productive with running backs, too.
J.J. Arrington ran for 2,000 yards at Cal in 2004, but also caught 42 passes in the two seasons before he was a second-round pick in 2005. Marshawn Lynch was a first-round pick in 2007. He had 1,200- and 1,300-yard rushing seasons in his final two years with the Golden Bears, but also caught 68 passes in three seasons, including 34 in his final year.
Javid Best had a 1,500-yard rushing season at Cal and more than 2,600 yards in his three-year career, but also caught 62 passes before he was picked in the first round in 2010. Shane Vereen had an 1,100-yard rushing season and 2,800 yards in his three seasons, but also caught at least 22 passes each year and 74 in all before the he was taken in the second round in 2011.
Arrington caught 91 passes in a four-year career with the Arizona Cardinals. Lynch has 202 receptions in his seven-year career with the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks. Best caught 58 passes as a rookie and 85 in a two-year career with the Detroit Lions cut short by concussions. Vereen had 43 receptions for the New England Patriots in 2013.
The Buccaneers believe Sims is capable of similar versatility. Licht called Sims a “phenomenal receiver” and raved about his hands, though they are small at 81/4 inches. He caught 70 passes as a freshman at Houston when WVU coach Dana Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator and followed with 51 and 37 before reuniting with Holgorsen in the fall.
“He’s a very explosive athlete,” Licht sad. “He’s got great hands, just like I said. I keep repeating that, but that was a point of emphasis. It brings us a back that not only has 4.46 speed as a runner, but also as a receiver. This is the top receiving back in the draft, we felt. I always feel like you can’t have enough backs, especially when they have versatile skill sets.”
The team’s leading receiver among running backs last season was Brian Leonard, a player that former Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano knew well when Schiano coached Leonard at Rutgers. Schiano was fired after the season and Leonard is no longer with the team.
Martin and backup Mike James were lost to season-ending injuries three weeks apart last season and B.J. Rainey ended up leading the team in rusher. Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans was picked in the first round and Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was taken in the second round. Licht said Sims completed the “Triple Towers” and that the offense will find a place for Sims and his skillset.
“Coach Tedford is very innovative, along with our entire offensive coaching staff — and defensive coaching staff for that matter — but we’ll find ways I’m sure to get him open, put him the best position to get the ball in his hands, because once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a pretty electric guy and a big guy at that too,” Licht said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.