Carolina Panthers

Panthers quick to pick Memphis star

It took less than three of their allotted 15 minutes for the Carolina Panthers to select Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams with their first-round pick in the NFL draft.

It didn't take long to figure out that Williams was just as excited to be coming to the Panthers.

"If you can't tell it in my voice, then you can't tell anything about any player ever," Williams said Saturday night. "I was definitely excited, my heart was doing a million miles per hour, and now it's down to a thousand miles per hour right now.

"You really don't understand how excited I am to play for the Carolina Panthers. I'm going to pour my heart and soul into this program and hopefully we'll come out on top. Hopefully we can have more wins than losses, get into the playoffs, win the big one and get us back to the glory days."

The Panthers picked Fresno State defensive back Richard Marshall in the second round.

Having Williams a year ago might have gotten them there sooner.

The Panthers lost in the NFC championship game primarily because they ran out of running backs.

Stephen Davis was long since done, DeShaun Foster had a broken leg and Nick Goings was knocked out early.

That left them with an odd collection of kick returners and no chance to get to the Super Bowl.

Williams should change that, as he fits the Panthers now-established mold of drafting productive college players from major programs -- guys who have proven their worth rather than projects.

Williams is the NCAA's all-time leader in total yards from scrimmage, and ranks among the top 10 rushers all-time. He led the NCAA last year with 1,964 yards on 310 carries (6.3 per carry) and 18 touchdowns.

"We've been looking at this kid since last year, because we thought he was coming out as a junior," Panthers director of college scouting Tony Softli said. "He's an excellent player, ultra-productive. He brings a dimension of quickness to the team, and more team speed. He's tough, he's smart and he's a good character young man, too. We're very, very happy to have him."

For now, he'll be behind Foster on the depth chart, but he'll push the oft-injured star of last December and January.

Williams' style sets him apart from the rest of the Panthers backs. At 5 feet 9, 217 pounds, he's the smallest of the lot, but he's thickly built and a capable pass-protector. Panthers coach John Fox mentioned that immediately, as that's one of the reasons 2005 second-round pick Eric Shelton initially fell out of favor before being stashed on injured reserve.

Williams had clearly done his homework on the Panthers, as he rattled off half his offensive teammates and the life story of owner Jerry Richardson quickly. If he can be as quick a study on the field, he'll earn playing time quickly.

The only problem is, he won't get the kind of work he's used to. He had 969 carries in college (leading to some pre-draft concerns about his long-term durability), but won't likely see that degree of action here unless things go terribly wrong.

Even though he's used to being the guy, he said he had no problem sharing the load.

"I don't think it'll be a problem -- we're three backs with three different game-changing styles," Williams said. "Eric Shelton ... he's a big bruiser, if I can call him our short-yardage back. DeShaun Foster, he brings his own element, his own different style to the game.

"And myself, I'm one of those same backs. I can make guys miss, I'm one of those breathtaking backs, along with those two guys I previously mentioned."

Panthers officials were quick to mention the intangible factors, and Williams will come to Charlotte with a cause as well as a game. He hosted a fundraising dinner last weekend to promote breast cancer awareness. His mother, Sandra Hill, recently had successful surgery to remove cancerous tissue, and Williams said he lost three aunts to breast cancer.

"We're very excited," Fox said. "He's a really bright-eyed, smart, tough kid. He's got personality, and I think he's excited, too. We're looking forward to seeing him."

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