Brown, Williams go in top 5
How unusual was it to have two running backs from the same school selected in the first round, let alone in the top five, as former Auburn stars Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams were with the second and fifth selections, respectively?
The tandem of Tigers tailbacks on Saturday became only the third pair from the same program, at least since 1970, to be chosen in the opening stanza. Brown, taken by Miami with the second overall choice, and Williams, who went to Tampa Bay at No. 5, join these duos: Leo Hayden (Minnesota) and John Brockington (Green Bay) of Ohio State in 1971 and the University of Florida's John L. Williams (Seattle) and Neal Anderson (Chicago) in 1986.
"I really don't know much about those others [tandems]," Brown said on Saturday, "but I'm proud and happy about how this all worked out for me and 'Cadillac.' I think that we both worked very hard to achieve this [first-round] status. We had a lot of mutual respect for each other and, while it was always very competitive, we remained friends all the way through school. I feel good for me and I feel good for him, too."
Based on athletic skills and potential, the Auburn stars arguably represent the top same-school tailback tandem ever. Of the other running back couplings, Brockington was a top-notch back for the Packers but Hayden never lived up to his billing. Anderson was a star for the Bears but Williams played fullback at the NFL level.
For a school noted for its powerful running attack over the years, Auburn, until Saturday, had only 24 backs chosen in the draft since 1970, and only seven of those came in the first three rounds. Brown and Williams are the first Auburn backs taken in the first round since the Packers chose Brent Fullwood with the fourth overall pick in 1987. In fact, the litany of Auburn first-round backs was limited to its glorious triumvirate of the '80s: Fullwood, the legendary Bo Jackson in 1986 and James Brooks in '81.
Auburn's collection of picks didn't stop with Williams and Brown; cornerback Carlos Rogers (No. 9) and quarterback Jason Campbell (No. 25) were chosen by the Washington Redskins. It marked the first time Auburn ever had four players taken in the first round. But, clearly, the overriding story was having the two tailbacks selected in the top five.
"People talk all the time, don't they, about how competition makes you better?" Brown said. "Well, day in and day out at practice, you had two excellent running backs competing on the same field and in the same backfield. Cadillac would push me and I would push him. And the end result is that we kind of both pushed each other to the top. I don't know that either of us would be where we are without the other one around."
Chances are that, even without the torrid battle over playing time and carries and starts, the more celebrated Williams and the late-emerging Brown would have been poised to reap the benefits of a fat first-round contract. But there is little doubt that The Cadillac and The Hummer, as Brown has recently come to be known, drove each other hard as they traversed a road now paved with gold.
The most remarkable accomplishment of Auburn's double-edged tailback sword is that splitting time at a high-profile position never split their relationship off the field. The semi-platoon system enacted by coach Tommy Tuberville created a rare camaraderie. Sharing carries led to sharing aspirations and pulling for each other.
"Lots of times in a situation like we were in," Williams acknowledged," there could be a lot of selfishness or [pettiness]. I mean, every back wants to be the back, right? But from the very first day, I think there was a mutual respect and a feeling that, if we just hung together, we would make it together."
And now they have.
• Deja vu for Bears: As was the case in 2004, when they selected defensive tackle Tommie Harris, the Chicago Bears attempted to negotiate contract parameters with first-round tailback Cedric Benson of Texas while they were on the clock Saturday.
Bears officials spent much of their 15-minute time limit, ESPN.com has confirmed, discussing a potential deal for Benson with agent Eugene Parker. But Parker gambled that Chicago would choose Benson, the kind of workhorse back who should provide the Bears with a physical dimension when the winds off Lake Michigan start whipping, even without a deal for his client.
And he obviously won the gamble.
An interesting twist here: Chicago got an agreement on the clock with Harris a year ago. But then Harris switched agents, ironically, to Parker, who refused to accept the terms that were negotiated by the defensive tackle's prior representation. The switch of agents, and the fact Bears officials were forced to start from scratch in negotiations, definitely caused some acrimony in the bargaining process.
• Three's company: You think Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington had few excuses in 2004 for his inconsistent play? Well, not that Harrington has ever been big on alibis -- the fact is, the third-year pro is anything but a finger-pointer and has always held himself accountable for his performances -- but his margin for error has narrowed once again.
Detroit officials have always noted privately their feelings that Harringon had to be surrounded by top-flight weaponry, and Mike Williams further enhances the wide receiver arsenal.
The strong consensus over the past several weeks was that the Lions, statistically the No. 22 defense in the league last season, would upgrade on that side of the ball. Popular opinion held that Lions president Matt Millen would select from a group that might include corner Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, defensive ends Shawne Merriman or Marcus Spears, or linebacker Derrick Johnson. Of the four, only Jones was off the board when Detroit made the 10th selection, and Millen still took another wide receiver.
Millen suggested, rather justifiably, that Williams was simply too good to pass on at that point in the first round. And Millen reiterated that the choice of Williams definitely is not a reflection of how the Lions view Rogers, who suffered collarbone fractures in each of his first two NFL seasons.
One other element to remember: Detroit runs a West Coast offense and coach Steve Mariucci certainly adheres to the Bill Walsh heritage, which stresses bigger wideouts. In Rogers, Roy Williams and now Mike Williams, the Lions certainly don't lack size. Look for Mariucci to install Mike Williams at the weak-side wide receiver spot, where speed is not as critical a priority.
• Defensive shuffle: There was certainly some interesting one-upmanship around the middle of the opening round, beginning with the New Orleans Saints trading up with Houston, to jump from the No. 16 spot and into the 13th position. That nifty gambit allowed the Saints to leap-frog Carolina, and to snatch Oklahoma offensive tackle Jammal Brown, a player the Panthers wanted pretty badly.
The conventional wisdom, when the deal was announced, was that the Saints moved up to take Georgia linebacker/safety Thomas Davis. Instead, Saints brass addressed its offensive line, taking a player, in Brown, who not only captured the Outland Trophy for 2004, but who was one of the draft's fastest risers in recent days.
Brown will almost certainly line up at right tackle. That means Jermane Mayberry, the former Philadelphia Eagles guard signed by the Saints as an unrestricted free agent, can return to his natural position. The Saints had planned to play Mayberry at right tackle, but knew they had the option to return him to guard, if they acquired a natural right tackle. In a few years, the Saints, who now have a glut at guard and will likely try to trade one of their veterans, could move Brown to left tackle, once Wayne Gandy retires.
The second half of the interesting middle-round scenario: After missing out on Brown, the Panthers then took Davis, and probably will play him at linebacker. The compelling thing is that they chose Davis one spot ahead of Kansas City, which desperately wanted to add him to the offseason revamping of a defense that ranked 31st in 2004.
• Friendly advice: Two years ago, Atlanta-based agent Pat Dye Jr. fielded a phone call from Troy State assistant Mike Pelton, a longtime friend, and a guy who had played in college for his father, legendary Auburn coach Pat Dye Sr. The call was to tip off Dye that Troy State had a sleeper prospect in defensive end Osi Umenyiora, and that the agent might want to try to recruit the youngster as a client.
"I could barely pronounce the guy's name, let alone find him on the NFL's radar screen, and so I didn't even call him," Dye recalled. "So then I'm watching the 2003 draft on TV and the Giants draft Osi in the second round. I said to myself that day, 'From here on out, any time Mike Pelton recommends a player to me, I'm listening to him.' And from that day on, I have."
So when Pelton called a year or so ago to tip Dye to an ascending player, defensive end Demarcus Ware, the agent went on the offensive. Ware chose Dye over about 40 other agents who recruited him. And on Saturday, Ware, arguably the best hybrid defender in this year's draft pool, was the 11th player selected overall, going to the Dallas Cowboys.
• Moving to the outside: Look for the Houston Texans to play Travis Johnson, the former Florida State defensive tackle selected as the 16th overall pick, to play him at end. The Texans are a pure 3-4 team, which means they need bigger ends, and Johnson has just the right blend of size and speed to succeed in that scheme.
"I've played inside but, even at end in the 3-4, you're more inside anyway, usually over the tackle or in the tackle-guard gap," Johnson said. "I'll be able to do it, for sure."
Houston has demonstrated the ability to take onetime 4-3 tackles, players such as Gary Walker and Robaire Smith, and move them to end in their 3-4 front. No reason, it seems, that Johnson won't be able to make the transition.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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