New Buccaneer RB Cadillac Williams was as hopeful as the Buccaneers that he would be available with the fifth pick
Of the three backs who set an NFL record by comprising 60% of the top five picks in the draft this weekend, only one, Cadillac Williams, elected to attend the Senior Bowl.
Of course, no one faults Ronnie Brown or Cedric Benson for turning down invites to the college all-star game in January. They had little to prove and it certainly didn't hurt either player's draft status, as Brown went second overall to the Miami Dolphins and Benson was picked two spots later by the Chicago Bears.
Williams, Brown's backfield mate at Auburn, didn't really need to prove himself to NFL scouts, either, but he went to Mobile, Alabama for the game anyway.
You see, Williams had an agenda.
"Once I found out [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] Coach [Jon] Gruden and his staff were coaching the Senior Bowl, I just got excited and said I would definitely go down there," he said. "I knew that they were bargaining for a back, so I was going to go down there so they could get a first-hand look at me. Therefore, I feel like the Senior Bowl helped me, and I took advantage of that situation."
Well, it certainly didn't hurt. Williams went one pick after Benson to the roster on which he had openly coveted a spot. Gruden did indeed like what he saw out of Williams in Mobile, though truth be told he had already formed a pretty strong opinion.
"This guy has done great things on the college level and it was brought to my attention just by watching highlights on TV in my room on Saturday night," said Gruden. "The night before [our] games, I would sit in my room, thinking about our games and watching SportsCenter. [I'd say], 'Who is this number 24 guy?' When I had a chance to coach him and meet him personally, it was very exciting for me."
The two were reunited on Sunday, when Williams flew in from Alabama. On Monday morning, Gruden introduced the Buccaneers' newest offensive weapon to the local media at a press conference on the site of Raymond James Financial, one of the team's Pewter Partners. Before the draft, team officials had to stay somewhat close to the vest on their targeted players. On Saturday following the Bucs' first pick and again on Monday, however, Gruden made it clear that the team had thought very highly of Williams for some time.
It was an easy decision to use the fifth overall pick on Williams, because Gruden believes that player he saw tearing up the field on Saturday highlights can do the same thing on Sundays. Gruden lauded the Auburn back for the unselfish way in which he handled the sharing of backfield duties with Brown last year, but still expects to put Williams to frequent use.
"You don't pick a guy this high and make him a nickel back or make him an exclusive role player," said Gruden. "This guy can play in any situation. I think he can handle the pounding and he's got durability. He'll play hurt and practice hurt and that's important also.
"His best trait is running the football, when his hands are on the ball. This guy can make you miss, and I've seen him knock people out. When his hands are on the ball, good things happen. I've seen him return punts, kickoffs; I've seen him make clutch plays in key situations for a long time; and the guy scores touchdowns. This guy was a very productive player at Auburn and that's the most exciting trait, I think, when he has the ball in his hands."
Gruden did not want to saddle the 5-11, 217-pound Williams with any specific comparisons to current NFL players. However, in defending the rookie's size and ability to take a pounding on the professional level, he alluded to such star backs as Tiki Barber (5-10, 200), Clinton Portis (6-0, 207) and Priest Holmes (5-9, 213). Gruden confirmed that the team liked Williams' speed and sudden moves, but he also referred to the back as "powerful."
Williams, too, believes that he can fill the role of feature back in the NFL.
"I feel like I can bring a lot," he said. "I can go in and get the tough yards. I can be the game-breaking back and break the big runs. You can use me in the passing game. I'm a guy that picks up on schemes well, and (picks up) blitzes. I see myself as an every down back."
That is particularly true, Williams figures, in Gruden's offense, which values speed and versatility. Thus the surprising visit to Mobile.
"I felt real good about it," said Williams of his Senior Bowl experience. "I had a good week of practice (at the Senior Bowl), and Coach Gruden seemed to like me. So when I left the Senior Bowl, I told my family that it would be a real good possibility that I could become a Buc because Coach Gruden and I hit it off well."
It is a partnership with many great days ahead.