The Bucs are not concerned about Carnell Williams' ability to run through traffic
Their 15 minutes on the clock had begun and, moments before, Texas running back Cedric Benson had gone to Chicago with the fourth overall pick. That left Auburn running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams very prominently displayed on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft board.
Of course, USC wide receiver Mike Williams and South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson were also still available. As were cornerbacks Adam Jones and Antrel Rolle and pass-rushers Demarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman. Oh, and top-rated passer Aaron Rodgers was conspicuously still available.
Did that make the decision difficult for the Buccaneers?
Maybe if this were February or March, but not on April 23. The Bucs scouted many players that they liked tremendously but, by draft day, they were more than sold on a new Cadillac. There was little debate when the Bucs were on the clock.
"Not so much today," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We've had enough meetings here for the last three or four weeks. Having not made the playoffs, we've had plenty of meetings. We've been looking at the draft for enough time. I think Mike Williams is a great player. Certainly was considered, as were some other guys that have been picked and some that are still available. Carnell is a guy we know, we want and we're excited about it."
In fact, the Bucs had become enamored enough of Williams that they were beginning to fear that he would be off the board. Had the draft been a week ago, the Bucs would have made the same move; thus, the last week offered some nervous moments.
"I'm just glad the draft was today," said Gruden. "I was hoping we could just mail our pick in last week. I'm kind of sick of looking at all of these players. They really all have great things to bring to a football team, but I think I've said enough here today. You're getting a guy who's a rare kid, he's a champion in terms of being 13-0. You've got to look all over Alabama to find anybody to say something bad about this guy. I couldn't find anybody, except for a couple [University of] Alabama fans who didn't like him, but that's understandable."
The first back off the board, Williams' Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown, went to Miami with the scouting report that he was the best pass-catching back available. The second back off the board, Cedric Benson of Texas, was seen as the best "big" back available. Williams was generally thought of as the fastest, shiftiest runner in the bunch, and the Bucs wouldn't disagree. However, they see him as more of a total package, and that includes doing some of the things for which Brown and Benson are better known.
In other words, he can be an every-down back and play in any situation.
"If you watch Auburn, okay, he's the one with all the touchdowns," said Gruden. "He's the guy playing on the goal line and carrying the ball on third-and-one. That's one of the things that was loud and clear to us. This guy scores touchdowns, he converts third downs and he runs the clock out when they have a lead late in games. I'm not concerned about him carrying the ball in any situation, and I'm certainly not worried about the physical status of Carnell Williams. This guy is a load, and I think he'll prove that when he gets here. He's physically very put-together, and he's 217 pounds the last I saw him. I think that's a comfortable wait for him."
The Bucs didn't just go with a gut feeling on Williams' ability to handle a full NFL load. They did their homework.
"We've done all the research on the size and speed of the backs who are playing today," said Gruden. "If you look at Clinton Portis and Tiki Barber and Priest Holmes – I mean, do the math – Curtis Martin and all the guys who are playing, for the most part are very similar in size. They're very similar – 5-10, 202 to 5-10, 211. Cadillac is physically cut from the same cloth, so size is not going to be a detriment in terms of how much he sees the ball, in my opinion."
Still, make no mistake: The quality that set Williams apart from his counterparts – his speed and shiftiness – were still critical in the Bucs' evaluation of the runners.
"It was very important," said Gruden. "It was obviously not the deciding edge when it comes to this position. The kid who was picked right before him was just sensational, as was Ronnie Brown. But Cadillac gives us some 4.46 heat, if that's a good word. He does have the ability to take a short pass the distance, and he can come out of the trash and score on you, which is hard to do in pro football. To have a guy who can potentially hit some home runs for you…hopefully [Michael] Clayton has another good season for us and Joey Galloway stays injury-free. That's a good start for us from a skill-position standpoint."
And just the start the Bucs wanted to their 2005 draft.