NEW YORK -- Carnell Williams, appropriately enough, ran away with The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
The Tampa Bay running back nicknamed "Cadillac" was the sleek,
fast and powerful model the Buccaneers needed to spark their
offense. He became a starter immediately, rushed for 1,178 yards
and six touchdowns, and was the catalyst in the Buccaneers'
turnaround from also-ran to NFC South champion.
Williams drew 47 votes Wednesday from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. His running mate at Auburn, Ronnie Brown of the Dolphins, received one vote, as did
tight end Heath Miller of Pittsburgh and offensive lineman Logan Mankins of New England.
"It's always been my dream to play on this level," said
Williams, the fifth overall pick in last year's draft. "Ever since
I was a kid, playing football in the backyard, middle school, high school, college, I was working to get to this level. To come out here and be named offensive rookie of the year is an amazing
accomplishment. That's a great honor."
He earned it by having a team-record six 100-yard games. His
season high was 158 against Green Bay, and he had 150 vs. Atlanta.
Williams piled up the yards despite a left foot injury that
forced him to miss two games early in the season and part of a
third. When he got healthy, the Bucs surged past Atlanta and
Carolina to win the division title at 11-5. The Bucs host
Washington on Saturday in the wild-card round.
The Redskins will need to keep after Williams all game. He
gained 449 of his yards in the fourth quarter, when he averaged 5.7 yards per carry, which is far above his average for the first three periods. Four of Williams' six TDs came in the fourth quarter.
Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden was thrilled Williams was available
in the draft after Brown went No. 2 overall and Cedric Benson of
Texas went to Chicago with the fourth pick. Now the entire league
has seen why Gruden was so excited.
"W really felt that he was a great, great running back, to be
honest with you," Gruden said. "[Auburn coach] Tommy Tuberville felt the same way. Everybody I talked to in Alabama said: 'This is the greatest running back in the history of high school football in Alabama.' Better than Bo Jackson, better than most of these guys
have ever seen. I'm not saying he's better than Bo. But everybody I talked to said he's a hell of a back. 'Get him on your team,
somehow, some way.'
"I think he's proven to everybody what he's all about."
Williams has no complaints about where he wound up in the NFL,
"I'm dead happy the way the draft went, me landing in Tampa,"
he said. "This is where I wanted to play. But after everything was
said and done, looking back on things, I was like: 'Man, I was the
third back taken. I was the fifth pick, but I was the third back,
so people still don't believe, or for some reason doubt me.' "
Williams is the second Tampa Bay player to win the award.
Running back Warrick Dunn won it in 1997.
Last year's winner was Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.