The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their first-round draft pick (No. 5 overall) to select Auburn running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams on Saturday afternoon.
“I want to thank Coach Gruden and his staff for selecting me,” Williams said. “I’m looking to do big things down there.”
The 5-foot-10, 217-pound Williams rushed for 1,165 yards (4.9 avg.) and 12 touchdowns and caught 21 passes for 152 yards and a score during his senior season while splitting carries with Ronnie Brown, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Miami Dolphins,
In addition to all of those feats, Williams helped Auburn go undefeated (13-0) in 2004 while being named to the All-Southeastern Conference first-team and earning All-American honors.
In 42 career games at Auburn, which ran a West Coast style of offense that is similar to Tampa Bay’s during Cadillac’s senior season, Williams carried the ball 741 times for 3,821 yards (5.2 avg.) and 45 touchdowns, which broke school records held by Joe Cribbs (rushing attempts) and Bo Jackson (touchdowns scored).
Some pundits believe Williams, who hauled in 45 career passes for 342 yards and a touchdown, was picked after Brown and Texas RB Cedric Benson (Chicago, No. 4 overall) because of his lack of catches at the college level. However, Gruden said his staff was comfortable with Williams’ ability to catch the ball.
“I think if you look at him carefully, he can catch the ball,” Gruden said. “There have been some real bad rumors about (the fact that) maybe that’s not his strength. He returned punts and kickoffs and can catch the ball out of the backfield. In the open air, he’s as good as I’ve seen. We’re really excited to have him.”
At Auburn, Williams also had a role on special teams, returning 22 punts for 251 yards (11.4 avg.) and returning 29 kickoffs for 609 yards (21.0 avg.).
Williams, who is regarded as a shifty, elusive back with surprising power, won Tampa Bay’s coaching staff over on film with his ability to carry the ball effectively in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and back in January when he participated at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Williams played for the South team, which was coached by head coach Jon Gruden and Co.
“It took about one day at the Senior Bowl,” Gruden said. “We were fortunate to coach down there in Mobile and we knew a lot about Cadillac obviously from what he had done in college. He put an exclamation point on that in Mobile. We love this guy and we’re going to build a great part of our offense around him. He’s unselfish and he’s an electrifying playmaker and he’s someone we need here.”
In 2001, Williams appeared in 10 games, carrying the ball 120 times for 614 yards (5.1 avg.) and scoring six touchdowns. In 2002, Williams rushed for 745 yards with 10 touchdowns on 141 carries (5.3 avg.). In 2003, “Cadillac” tied the school season-record with 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,307 yards on 241 attempts.
The drafting of Williams should help the Bucs improve their 29th-ranked ground attack from a year ago, but it also makes the futures of tailbacks Michael Pittman and Charlie Garner uncertain. One or both players could become salary cap casualties after June 1.
Gruden favors a running-back-by-committee approach, which is something Williams, who is regarded as an unselfish and team player, was used to at Auburn and won’t mind participating in as a Buccaneer.
“My football hero is Walter Payton,” Williams said. He’s a great human being. He did great things in Chicago and was the all-time leading rusher. That’s my favorite player.”
Gruden said he is confident that the duo of “Cadillac” Williams and wide receiver Michael Clayton, who was the team’s first-round pick (No. 15 overall) in 2004, will help the Bucs compete now and in the future.
“Hopefully Cadillac Williams and Michael Clayton will give us two building blocks on offense that we can build around,” Gruden said. “We’ve got a lot of draft picks left today and we’re intent on coming back here strong this fall.”
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