The Denver Broncos’ war room didn’t resemble a scene of jubilation for naught; Javonte Williams is in town to make an impact.
Following Denver’s trade up for the former Tar Heel ball-carrier in the second round of April’s draft, Broncos brass was seen fist-bumping and high-fiving not because Williams is expected to look fetching in uniform on the sidelines, but rather, his skill set could rapidly result in him serving as Denver’s bell-cow back in his first professional campaign.
The history at running back for Denver has been one of a productive list over the last couple of seasons, with three 1,000-yard rushers in the last four seasons. However, gone is Phillip Lindsay, the team’s leading rusher in 2018-2019, which leaves Melvin Gordon now in line to earn a bulk of the carries for an offense predicating itself on the battle between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater to result in serviceable play within an offense loaded with talent.
A six-year vet with more than 5,000 rushing yards to his name, dismissing Gordon as a change of pace back to spell Williams as a breath of fresh air wouldn’t be appropriate at this stage of the summer. However, when you begin to peek into the crystal ball of the Broncos’ potential success this fall and moving into the future, there is no question Williams, a physical yet elusive runner, will soon become Denver’s RB1.
On top of his versatile ability in the run game, Williams thrives in pass protection, an area where Broncos backs struggled mightily in 2020, allowing 19 sacks last fall compared to just five the season prior. By no means does the onus single-handedly fall on Gordon’s inability to serve as an extra body in protection, but with a similar skill set to Williams who enters the fold with fresher legs and a background of success in protection, Williams could mirror Gordon—and for cheap.
With versatility comes snaps, and with snaps comes clarity on production, whether it’s good or bad. For Williams, a talent entrenched within one of the league’s most dynamic offenses where eyes will be drawn toward the boundary to account for Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Tim Patrick, and KJ Hamler, his opportunity to jump onto the scene from Week 1 couldn’t be greater in the shadows presented by Denver’s exciting group of pass-catchers. Williams could boost a Denver run game that will become critical if the Broncos attempt to battle their way back to the postseason for the first time since their Lombardi Trophy-winning campaign in 2015.
Similar to his tenure in Chapel Hill, Williams’ transition into Pat Shurmur’s gap/pull offense should be seamless as Denver’s focus on inside zone becomes more apparent with Williams in the fold. A 1,140-yard rusher with 19 touchdowns in his final season at North Carolina, Williams’ ability to maneuver and press the hole on inside runs became the staple of the Tar Heel running game, resulting in Williams leading the nation with 76 missed tackles. His agility both between the tackles and in space as a pass-catcher offers an array of options for Shurmur to get the ball in his hands.
All in all, the Denver backfield, for now, looks to be a two-headed attack primed to lead the Broncos’ offense if all fails under center. While Shurmur could opt to alternate snaps between Gordon and Williams to kick off the year, it won’t take long for Williams, the third ball-carrier off the board in April, to announce his arrival.