When it comes to the running back position, we’ve never seen a once prominent spot on the depth chart experience so many phases when it pertains to the NFL game. Concerning it, there are multiple viewpoints. While some feel as if the spot is disposable and players at the position are replaceable within a committee, star players at the position continue to receive record contracts. Over the past few months, players like Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon received worthy deals in their own right as all are key pieces to their team’s respective offenses.
While the opinions on the value of running backs remain varied, one occurrence has stayed the same. The amount of talent at the position is at a surplus and the talent continues to improve yearly. Considered loaded at the position, the 2020 NFL Draft class produced the likes of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D’Andre Swift, and even an unexpected unsung hero in James Robinson.
In the 2021 draft class, the two most popular names mentioned at the top of the position are Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris. Both are jostling to grab the top spot of the position group, but it’s more about which type of running back a team prefers when it comes to setting the order of who will go first. After getting past those two, there’s a jumble of names that consist of Chuba Hubbard, Kenneth Gainwell, and Kylin Hill. With two of those names opting out and Hubbard not having quite as many flashes as we’re accustomed to seeing, the door remains open for another prospect to enter the conversation. Not only has that player entered the conversation, but they have kicked the door down and arguably claimed the pole position for the wide open third spot behind Etienne and Harris.
North Carolina rusher Javonte Williams is a part of arguably the nation's best backfield duo alongside Michael Carter. With both already eclipsing most of their season totals from a year ago, all eyes have been on Williams, as he currently leads the country (per Sports Info Solutions) in multiple categories including yards after contact (583), broken tackles (41), and rushing touchdowns (15).
The legacy of Williams stretches far beyond him scoring touchdowns in Chapel Hill and across other stadiums in the ACC. “Pookie,” as he’s called in his hometown of Teachey, North Carolina, has run wild since his days of suiting up for Wallace-Rose Hill High School. A key piece of four consecutive state championship victories during his career for the Bulldogs, he’s managed to carry over his winning ways to the Tar Heels.
Williams’ story began on the opposite side of the ball, though. Rather than running over defenders into the end zone, he was once one of those players aiming to keep running backs from scoring six points. Starting his career as a linebacker, he was labeled as one of the best in the state, but FBS colleges thought otherwise.
Struggling to land that significant offer, he possessed multiple offers from FCS schools and Coastal Carolina. Averaging a state-leading 16 tackles a game, his coaches within the program constantly tried to convince each coach that graced the hallways to check in on Williams. Eventually asking about the possibilities of a scholarship offer, the questions were quickly interjected with a “well, but” rebuttal that resulted in nothing of substance.
Being discouraged, Williams was close to committing to Coastal Carolina, but something told him to continue to play the waiting game. The patience included a position switch where he would transition to running back. Considering his production, the tape that was out there on him, and entering an all important senior season, he took a leap of faith and trusted the coaching staff that had developed him since being an underdeveloped, but athletic freshman.
Training his mind to switch to running back was no easy task, but reading blocking schemes from the other side helped him during his transition. The leader of a rock-solid group of 16 senior student-athletes, Williams entered the final game of his career in the 2A state championship game. Owning a 31-game win streak, Williams saved his best for last as he marched to a game-high 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns while on his way to MVP status for the second consecutive season in a double overtime victory.
The switch from linebacker to running back proved to be the best move of his career as he landed a scholarship offer from his dream school two weeks following the game while on an official visit. Now the leader of the Tar Heels attack, his star continues to shine bright as he’s surging up NFL draft boards.
Size: 5-foot-10, 225, Junior
Williams has a well developed understanding of all types of running concepts. No matter if it’s zone runs or ones that involve pullers, Williams has a well developed understanding of how each run works and the strengths/weaknesses of each. When running behind pullers, he shows the patience necessary and is cautious to not overrun them as he allows them to stick onto their blocks and then determines his plan of attack following that point. Also a frequent participant in the passing game, he has excellent hands that help him pluck the ball out of the air when running swings, check downs, or simple routes out of the backfield.
A vastly underrated part of Williams’ game is his ability to “run the gauntlet” and churn out positive yardage. When in danger or bracing for contact in traffic, he makes sure to lower his pads, put two hands over the ball, and lean all of his weight forward. This ensures that he carries all of his momentum into contact points and it ensures that he falls forward for positive yardage. There have also been circumstances where executing this technique has allowed him to break tackles as a result of defenders being unable to win battles against the weight of his forward-leaning momentum.
Arguably the top trait of Williams’ game is his ability to consistently break tackles. His mature build and body density help him when competing against would be tacklers as they struggle to wrap up his body and bring him down to the ground. While not a rusher that relies on breaking defenders down in short areas, he’s able to use an effective stiff arm combined with relying on his body build and effort in order to pinball off of tacklers.
Williams is more of a build-speed runner compared to being able to instantly separate from would be tacklers. He's not a rusher that will consistently produce chunk plays strictly off of his explosiveness. He'd rather churn out tough yards by incorporating a stiff arm that has been useful for him throughout his career. Ball security hasn't been a recurring issue, but Williams did record three fumbles last season (two lost) and he's only recorded one so far this season. Lateral agility isn't a type of movement that he hangs his hat on as he's a bit stiff when moving east and west. He lacks instant short-area quickness to make defenders miss in quick spaces, which is why he counteracts with plowing his head and shoulders forward in condensed areas.