INDIANAPOLIS -- The tailback known throughout his career as "Cadillac" conceded Friday that, at the conclusion of his senior season, he was tired and worn down and, perhaps as important, fretting that NFL scouts might view his relatively light 205 pounds as a matter of concern.
So what did Auburn tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams do about it. He showed up here for the annual predraft combine workouts at a robust 217 pounds, the most weight that he has ever carried on his 5-foot-10 7/8 frame, but feeling no slower for the extra bulk. The meatier Williams drew double-takes from a few scouts as they passed him in the corridor that connects the Indiana Convention Center to the RCA Dome.
Which was, Williams suggested, precisely his plan.
"I don't want them thinking I'm one of those rinky-dink little backs," said Williams, who is vying with Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson of Texas for the top perch on the tailback prospect pecking order.
"When they look at me, I want them to see a guy who is quick, and can make the big play, but a back who can run with power, too. I made it a big deal, maybe my biggest goal over the last month or so, to add the weight. I feel good about it. Plus, going into the NFL, I know the physical pounding is going to be a lot worse. So I'm bigger, and just as fast, so there's nothing wrong with that."
There remains a pervasive mindset in the NFL scouting community that, more so than at any other position, it is easier to find a running back outside of the first round who can still come to a team and make an immediate impact. And, indeed, there is a group of solid tailback prospects this year, runners who will go off the board in perhaps the second to fourth rounds, who will fill the bill. It happens, it seems, every year.
But there is also a suspicion that all of the Big Three tailbacks in the 2005 draft will be chosen in the top half of the first round, that all will have very productive careers, and that at least one of them could turn out to be a special player. Right now, there is no consensus about which of the three backs that will be and beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder at this juncture of the evaluation process.
Over the past two days, confident but not necessarily cocky, all three big-time tailbacks in this year's draft stated their arguments for why they will be the top guy. And for why they should be the first tailback whose name is called on April 23.
Truth be told, Benson, Brown and Williams all passed the so-called "eyeball test," which is essentially scoutese for meaning they certainly look the part. But who will play the part better than the other two? Williams didn't even try to feign modesty in issuing his opinion that he is the premier runner in the 2005 talent pool.
"Hey, all three of us are great backs, and I'm sure we're going to see plenty of each other during our NFL careers," Williams said. "Ronnie, obviously, I've known him for years, love him as a teammate, have nothing but respect for him. Cedric, I've gotten to know him now a lot better, and he's cool, too. But if it's me doing the picking, I take me, and know that I'm getting a hard-working, quality, big-play runner."
At the practices preceding the Senior Bowl college all-star game last month, Williams put on a clinic, and addressed some of his perceived shortcomings. He caught the ball better than most personnel people felt he could, showed willingness (if not necessarily polished skill) to block and ran hard between the tackles. That didn't mean he moved significantly ahead of the other two in this draft class, but it didn't hurt him, either. And if he can turn in good on-campus workouts for scouts -- Williams will not run the 40-yard sprint here but might participate in some position drills -- he could create a bit of separation from Brown and Benson.
Then again, given that those two players are superb backs as well, all three could still be tightly bunched right up to draft day. Which, in part, is why Williams figured that some extra pounds might, figuratively at least, provide him a little more weight when it came time to parse the skills of the tailback trio.
"Every little thing, sometimes even the elements you don't think much about, helps you," Williams said. "These guys, they look at everything, you know? I want them to feel very confident they can give me the ball 20 times (a game) and that I'm not going to fizzle out on them in the fourth quarter. At 217 (pounds), I mean, I'm no little back, and no one can try to say I am."
Around the combine
He hasn't thrown a pass yet, and actually won't participate in Sunday's throwing session, but California quarterback Aaron Rodgers has stood tall already here. Literally. Rodgers was measured on Thursday morning at 6-foot-2 and 223 pounds, dispelling all the concerns about his height. There were a lot of scouts who felt Rodgers, despite being listed at 6-2 in college, was actually closer to 6-1. "I didn't ever think height was going to be a factor, but everyone sure acted like it might be," Rodgers said. "I had a friend send me an e-mail recently, and it claimed the average size of the quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame was 6-feet-1 and 220 pounds. And I know Joe Montana was barely 6-2. I didn't worry about it nearly as much as everyone else." Rodgers will work out on campus on March 17 and claimed he will surprise people with his speed, vowing that he will run the 40 in under 4.8 seconds. Rodgers announced Friday that he has retained Octagon to represent him in contract negotiations.
David Greene of the University of Georgia notched more victories during his four years as a starter than any quarterback in NCAA history and that fact has not gone unnoticed by the coaches and scouts here. "In the interviews, teams have asked me about it, what it all means to me," said Greene on Friday afternoon. "To tell the truth, it means more to me than anything else I could have ever accomplished in football. That's because it's a team thing, not a 'me' thing. It means I played four years with great guys. I certainly didn't win those games by myself." Greene is an interesting prospect, a passer with good touch, arm strength and the kind of size (measured at 6-feet-3½ and 226 pounds on Friday) most teams covet. He is one of the players competing for the No. 3 quarterback spot behind Aaron Rodgers of California and Alex Smith of Utah, and scouts talk at length about Greene's toughness and leadership skills. One quarterbacks coach from an AFC team that is smitten with Greene recalled how the Georgia star came off the bench in the 2004 season finale against Georgia Tech, to secure a victory, even though he had broken the thumb on his passing hand. "It's not so much that he exudes confidence, but that he makes the people around him so much more confident," said the coach.
Sometimes you get so caught up in football-talk with prospects that you miss some of the more compelling elements of their lives, and that was the case on Thursday in the group interview with Jason Brown, the standout North Carolina center. One of the more articulate players to step to the interview podium in the first couple days here, Brown spoke at length, and in great detail about the nuances of the position. But what no one in the media asked him about was the death of his older brother, Army specialist Lunsford Bernard Brown II, in Iraq last year. "Hey, I'm sure a lot of people simply didn't know the story," said Brown. "It wasn't a lack of sensitivity on anyone's part. We just didn't get into it, that's all. But, sure, it's something you never prepare for and never get over. I know that sounds (trite), but it's just the truth. All I can do now is use every day of my life to honor his." A truck driver in the Army, Lunsford Brown saved the life of an Iraqi boy who was drowning in a shallow pond before he was killed. He left behind a wife and a baby daughter he had never seen.
Offensive tackle Alex Barron of Florida State, whom many agree is the top prospect at his position, certainly didn't hurt his stock here in the Cybex test. The Cybex, which mechanically measures leg strength, is one of the most dreaded tests here, and usually leaves players drained. While the exact number wasn't divulged, two scouts confirmed that Barron broke the unofficial combine record on the Cybex machine during a Thursday workout. As for the top player in terms of the standard 225-pound bench press, the early leader is offensive lineman Scott Young of BYU, who performed 44 repetitions. That tied the combine record established last year by defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga, who was chosen by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round.
It took Oklahoma quarterback and 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White more than five hours Thursday to get through his physical examination. The reason: White suffered a pair of anterior cruciate ligament tears during his career with the Sooners, one to each knee, and he was poked and prodded by the lead orthopedists for all 32 teams. "You guys are asking me questions about my speed and my arm strength and where I think I'll be drafted," said White. "That stuff's easy compared to all the questions I've just been asked about my knees. I think they put me through every test known to man to measure the stability of my knees. Heck, they haven't been a problem for a while now." Unlike many of the quarterbacks here, White will participate in the Sunday passing drills. Basically, given the concerns about his arm strength, White figures he has no choice. "But even without all the whispers," said White, "I think I'd still do it. I see this as my job audition. It's my interview for the job I want to spend the next 10 or 12 years doing. So I'm not going to duck anything they ask me to do."
Braylon Edwards of Michigan, universally regarded as one of the premier wideout prospects, has been the subject of much speculation that he will be chosen by Chicago with the fourth overall choice in the draft. If that's the case, Edwards said, it's fine with him. Said the Wolverines star: "I'm basically a walking sports encyclopedia, so I know all about the history of the Chicago Bears. It would be an honor to play for an historic franchise like that. Of course, it all depends on the Bears people, doesn't it? But if you're talking to them, tell them I'm all for it." Edwards said that, even for a young wideout, it is important to go to a team still confident that you can be The Man in the passing game. He cited the rookie performances in 2004 of first-rounders such as Michael Clayton of Tampa Bay and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. "I'm sure neither of those guys went to their teams thinking, 'OK, I'm going to take a back seat now.' You have to prepare like it's the NFL, the highest level of the game, but also have to prepare as if you're still going to be a guy who makes plays."
One little-known wide receiver prospect who definitely has created a curiosity factor here is Larry Brackens of Pearl River (Miss.) Junior College. We weren't able to get Brackens' height and weight, but he is a long and pretty well-defined wideout who never played at a big-time college. Scouts are anxious to see how he handles himself in the company of big-school wideouts.
The last word
"Money management. Or, I guess, more like actually having some money to manage." -- Texas tailback Cedric Benson on his biggest off-field priority after the draft.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.