Running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, got off to a fast start in his rookie debut when he rushed for 148 yards on 27 carries and a 71-yard touchdown run in Week 1 vs. the Minnesota Vikings.

As it turns out, that impressive performance was no fluke. It was a sign of things to come.

The Associated Press recognized Williams’ brilliant outing during the 2005 season on Wednesday by naming Cadillac the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Williams, who rushed for 1,178 yards on 290 carries (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns while catching 20 passes for 81 yards, received 47 of the 50 votes cast by a national panel.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back from Auburn broke several other records on the way to earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. On Wednesday, Williams said he expected to win the award since the day he was drafted by the Bucs.

“Of course I did,” said Williams. “I think every ball player, as a rookie, wants to win the award. It wasn’t my main goal, but it was something that I definitely wanted to accomplish, and it feels good to have it out of the way. I think, as far as a rookie season, you can’t ask for much more. To go over 1,000 yards, to actually be in the playoffs is a great rookie year.”

Wiiliams became the first running back in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in his first three games as a pro. His 434 rushing yards through the first three games of his career also set a new NFL record and got him named NFC Rookie of the Week three straight times and NFC Rookie of the Month in September.

A foot and hamstring injury temporarily derailed Williams’ sensational rookie debut, causing him to miss two and a half games and be limited in a few others.

But Williams got back on track in Atlanta on Nov. 20 by rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts en route to the Bucs’ 30-27 win over the Falcons.

From there, Cadillac drove home his case for winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award by producing 462 rushing yards and three touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s final five regular season games, four of which the Bucs won.

Williams finished the regular season with six 100-yard rushing efforts, and his 1,178 rushing yards broke Errict Rhett’s franchise rookie rushing record (1,011 yards) set back in 1994.

“I’m really happy for him, proud of him,” said Gruden. “It’s a credit to him and his hard work. I’d also like to credit our football team, particularly [Running Backs Coach] Art Valero and Mike Alstott and Mike Pittman, our veteran backs who helped him out along the way. It’s a great award. This guy’s a special talent, a special kid and hopefully he’s got a lot more great days ahead.”

Only two Bucs players have won the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award in the team’s 30-year history, and Williams is one of them. The last Bucs player to win that award was another running back, Warrick Dunn, who received that honor in 1997.

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