When the Chargers host the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, safety Derwin James will see his first opportunity to go head-to-head against his friend and former college teammate, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook.
"It's going to be fun," James said. "To me, (Cook is) the best running back in the NFL, so it's going to be a challenge this week. We have to come out and play."
Tied for the most rushing touchdowns in the league with Derrick Henry and second in total scrimmage yards behind Christian McCaffrey, Cook has been an explosive and integral aspect of Minnesota's offense and one of the league's top performers this season.
"I mean, he's a home run hitter any down," James said. "I know what type of player he is: he works hard every day. He's a dog, (and) he brings it every play, so we gotta come out and be ready."
While Cook has taken some by surprise this season, James has known about the running back's elite rushing ability ever since their days practicing, hanging out, and playing video games together as college teammates.
In the two years together at Florida State, James witnessed Cook eclipse 20 touchdowns and over 1600 rushing yards each season, leading to the Vikings selecting the running back in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft.
"Oh yeah, I've been seeing it," James said. "I (saw) it every day in practice. I mean, every run he'll get in practice, we had to wait for him to come back, because he ran it to the end zone every time, so I know what type of mindset he has."
Drafted one year later, James had an All-Pro rookie campaign in 2018 with the Chargers, finishing the season with 105 combined tackles (75 solo), 3.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. Consequently, James established himself as one of the best safeties in the NFL— a former teammate's success Cook has enjoyed admiring from afar.
"That's my little brother, man," Cook said. "Once he came in, I kinda took him under my wing. But that's my guy right there. I know who he is, I know all about him. Great player though."
When asked what separates James from other safeties in the league, Cook mentioned that the "energy" James brings every snap is invaluable to have on defense.
"He brings what you're missing in a defense," Cook said. "He flies around. (He's a) young player, but he acts like an older guy. So he's got that swag to him…"
James spent most of 2019 making his way back from a foot injury suffered during training camp. The long and arduous rehab process is something Cook is familiar with, having recovered from a torn ACL in 2018. So when Cook heard the news that James would miss significant time, Cook immediately sent well-wishes to his friend and former teammate.
"When I first started recovering, (Cook) was one of the first ones to reach out to me like, 'happy to see you finally back out there,'" James said.
With the two friends finally healthy, fans will be treated to two of the league's best going head-to-head. And according to James, don't expect to see any camaraderie between the two throughout the game.
"I'm a guy that, between the white lines, it's time to play, so that's always been my mindset," James said. "But after the game, we're good friends."
James versus Cook will surely be a matchup to watch as the Chargers face off against the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday. Kickoff is at 1:05 p.m. PT.