SDBR's Senior Bowl Q-A: Cameron Artis-Payne

The Chargers kept a close eye on all the running backs during Senior Bowl week, knowing one of them could be tabbed to replace Ryan Mathews. One strong candidate is Auburn's Cameron Artis-Payne, a complete runner who put up monster numbers as a senior in the SEC. We caught up with Artis-Payne for this exclusive interview.

Artis-Payne is coming off an outstanding season in which he ran for over 1,600 yards (5.3 ypc) and scored 13 touchdowns. He shows good patience, especially for a young runner, and is experienced using the “one cut and go” style that worked so well for the man he could replace in San Diego (Mathews).

He does not have much experience catching the football, as that was not a big part of the offense at Auburn. When we were chatting in Mobile, Ala., I likened Artis-Payne's situation to when LaDainian Tomlinson was coming out in the 2001 NFL Draft and people questioned his ability to catch the football as a product of TCU's option offense.

"Boy, were they wrong," he said of those who criticized Tomlinson, who finished his career with 624 receptions.

Artis-Payne added: "It's really funny that you said that, but LaDainian Tomlinson is actually my favorite running back. Another guy I look up to is my close friend LeSean McCoy. He’s a great running back. But my favorite running back in the NFL right now is Marshawn Lynch. That's my favorite guy, Beast Mode. I try to watch every running back playing because you can learn something different from everybody. Everybody is great at something else."

One thing we know for sure: Artis-Payne will not cost the Chargers a top-five pick, as Tomlinson did back in 2001.

Artis-Payne does not have the speed or athleticism to hear his name called in the first round. He may slip all the way into the middle rounds, thanks to the general devaluation of the running back position that has been going on in the NFL over the last few years.

The marginalization of the running back position is something Artis-Payne is aware of, although he clearly disagrees.

"The running game is very important," he said. "It's essential in order to have a good team, in my opinion. I don't get paid to make those decisions, and at the end of the day you can't worry about what round you'll go in because you'll just stress yourself and then you won't be at your best throughout this process. At the end of the day I just try to keep my head down and focus on what I need to focus on to be the best I can be."

Artis-Payne is attacking this offseason in an effort to silence his critics.

At the Senior Bowl, he went about proving himself as a receiver.

"I can catch the ball, it just wasn't an emphasis in our offense for the running back to catch the ball, but that doesn't mean I can't do it. I think I've shown that a little bit this week; I've caught the ball with my hands, not my body. I'm looking forward to the rest of this week to showcase things I didn't have the opportunity to showcase at Auburn."

Next comes the NFL Combine, where he looks to prove he is a better athlete than advertised.

"I want to shock some people. I feel like they underestimate my athleticism, so I want to shock some people at the Combine."

In between the Senior Bowl and Combine, Artis-Payne is working to stay in phenomenal shape and prepare himself to hit the ground running in the NFL.

"I'm going back down to Boca Raton, Fla., to work with Tony Villani at XPE to get ready for the Combine. After the Combine I have my Pro Day. Other than that, it's just working out until the draft. Once you figure out where you're going to be at, you want to be prepared and you want to go in there and have a chance at getting on the field. So I'll be doing some film study and working out."

It all amounts to a three-month, high stakes job interview. And no phase of the interview process is more critical than the one he just completed in Mobile, where he was able to work with the coaching staff of the Jacksonville Jaguars and showcase his wares against the best players in the country.

"[The Senior Bowl] is a great opportunity to work with an NFL coaching staff before you make it to the NFL, just to see what the practices are going to be like, what the expectations are at the next level and to find out what you really need to work on as a player," he said. "It's a great opportunity. Then, on top of that, you get to play against some of the top players in the country and you get to form a relationship with some of the top players in the country. Most of the time we see each other based on football, based on who they play for and all of that, but just getting the chance to get to know some of these guys has been fun.

"We'll definitely be tied together. It's a really good draft class, especially at running back. It's something we'll always remember, not only coming in as part of the same draft class, but the guys here [at the Senior Bowl] and that's something we'll always remember and carry with us for the rest of our lives."

What remains to be seen is whether he will carry those memories with him to San Diego or somewhere else.

Who should the Chargers target in the draft? Discuss in our Draft Talk Forum.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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