The interest in Auburn running back Carnell Williams could be real or it could be a smokescreen. But while Vikings coaches would like to establish a workhorse running back from their own stable of Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith and Mewelde Moore, each of those players has issues.
The options the Vikings possess at running back and with their three draft picks in the top 50 overall are staggering, which could be why they were showing an early interest in Florida running back Ciatrick Fason.
Fason told Viking Update at the combine that he has had talks with the Vikings, Browns and Jaguars.
Fason hired agent Joel Segal and declared himself eligible for the draft after his junior season at Florida, when he took over the starting tailback duties and rushed for 1,267 yards on 222 carries (5.7-yard average) with 10 touchdowns. He started only 15 games in his college career, but when the NFL returned his draft projection of being a second- or third-round selection, his decision to enter the draft was solidified. It was a decision he made prior to receiving that grade in order to support his family, he said at the combine.
"My wife was working and she wasn't getting home until 3 o'clock in the morning. And that was the hardest part because I had to stay up with the kids," he said. "That was the hardest part. But it paid off. She was working at a chicken restaurant and they were delivering."
Without the demands of college and a Florida offense that he said at times limited his carries, he thinks the best is yet to come for him.
"I definitely think my best football is ahead," he said. "I didn't take too much of a load with hits when I was in college. And I only had like 330 carries throughout my college career, so I feel like I had a lot ahead of me."
In his freshman and sophomore season, Fason split time with Ron Carthon and carried the ball only 93 times. His junior-year output earned him honors as an All-Southeastern Conference first-team player from the Associated Press.
The top three backs in the draft are expected to be Williams, Williams' Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown and Texas' Cedric Benson, but after those three there might not be another running back selected in the first round. Still, Fason thinks he compares favorably to the Big Three, even if he didn't receive the accolades of the aforementioned.
"When I went out and watched the two Auburn running backs, I saw Cadillac and the way he hits the holes and just the burst he had. I think I've got that burst," Fason said. "When I watch Ronnie, he's got the power. He's a complete back and I think I'm that kind of back. I'm that back, but I'm the two of them in one person. They both played the last couple of years and got their yardage and got their hype and I was just a guy flying under the radar."
Before running a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash, Fason said he thinks people underestimated his speed as a long-striding player.
Despite the college connection that people make between Fason and former Florida back Emmitt Smith, Fason compares himself to Seattle Seahawks back Shaun Alexander and former Bears great Walter Payton.
"Who I compare myself to the most is Shaun Alexander. When I get a chance to watch him, I see what he's doing. I learned a lot from him and that's who I compare myself to," Fason said, adding later: "I always liked Emmitt Smith. But I've always tried to do the things that Walter Payton's done. I think the way Walter Payton ran the ball, never going out of bounds, just his toughness. He had the heart. I always tried to match myself and try to be better than Walter Payton was."
It's far too early to confirm those comparisons, but sometime on April 23 Fason hopes that process begins in the NFL.
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