Three in backfield move to forefront

Auburn's Brown, Williams, Texas' Benson expected to be among top eight picks

Pro Football

April 18, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

A three-year drought during which no running back was among the NFL draft's top 10 picks will end quickly and emphatically Saturday.

Expectations are that three running backs will go in the first eight picks, two from the same team.

The Class of 2005 features the tag-team duo of Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams of Auburn and Cedric Benson of Texas.

Brown, a versatile, straight-ahead runner, should be the first back taken, no later than the fourth pick.

Among the teams looking for a running back early are the Miami Dolphins (second pick), Chicago Bears (fourth), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (fifth) and Arizona Cardinals (eighth).

Until Brown posted a 4.45 time in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in February, Benson was considered the best back in a strong class.

But Benson didn't run at the combine, and was timed only in the 4.6 range when he ran at his Pro Day workout. That development, combined with a checkered background and an unflattering comparison to former Texas running back Ricky Williams, has seen Benson's stock drop despite his 5,540 career rushing yards for the Longhorns.

"I've always had Benson a distant third and still do," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of his rankings. "I thought the two Auburn kids were special.

"What separates them in the age of specialization is that both Auburn kids block and both will catch the ball. Cedric Benson is a disinterested blocker. I dropped him down in my ratings because of that."

Marijuana charges against Benson in 2002 were dismissed for lack of evidence. A year later, he was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing for kicking in an apartment door to search for his stolen plasma TV. He pleaded no contest to the second charge and spent eight days in jail.

Asked if his off-the-field escapades would hurt him in the draft, the 5-foot-11, 222-pound Benson said: "Not really. ... There's no such thing as perfect. Who makes it through college without anything on their record? I think the most important thing would be me learning a lesson from it."

Benson's relationship with Ricky Williams was another point of contention. Benson followed Williams to Texas and wore dreadlocks like Williams. But in the aftermath of Williams' quitting on the Dolphins and his subsequent confession he used marijuana, Benson has tried to distance himself, even cutting off his dreadlocks.

Brown (6-0, 233) and Carnell Williams (5-10, 213), meanwhile, complemented each other at Auburn. Brown often played fullback and blocked for Williams.

"We played 13 games this season and I think I lined up in most every position in the backfield," Brown said. "In the slot position, I did different things. Even lined up at the tight end a few times."

The two backs shared their carries without acrimony.

"That kind of shows what kind of character both of us have," Williams said. "For us both to be really good running backs and both share the ball and never complain, that goes to show you."

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