Denver Broncos fans and fantasy football diehards were initially looking forward to what was possibly prematurely deemed an impending breakout campaign for sophomore running back Javonte Williams in 2022. The former North Carolina ball carrier thoroughly impressed as a rookie throughout the 2021 season despite sharing a backfield with veteran running back Melvin Gordon. Williams converted 203 carries into 903 rushing yards and four touchdowns. A dual-threat talent, Williams added 43 receptions for 316 receiving yards and three additional touchdowns.
The writing appeared to be on the wall for the at-the-time-28-year-old Gordon, who now found himself sharing a backfield with an exciting second-round rookie in a contract season. Many expected the Broncos to move on from Gordon, who entered the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. It was a situation that appeared to be heading toward a bellcow workload for Williams in 2022. Those expectations reached a screeching halt when Broncos General Manager George Paton surprisingly re-signed Gordon to a one-year contract worth a reported $2.5 million in late April. Gordon can earn up to $4 million with incentives.
New Broncos Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett must now determine how to distribute the available carries in his backfield. In what can be considered a rare and somewhat coincidental occurrence, Gordon and Williams split an even 203 carries a piece last season. While Williams’ 903 rushing yards represent an extremely impressive result for a rookie, Gordon actually led the team in rushing with 918 yards. Gordon, who has routinely pulled double-duty as a pass-catcher throughout his illustrious career, recorded 28 receptions, which was actually 15 fewer than what Williams secured.
Williams’ role should expand in 2022 despite the recurring presence of Gordon. The Broncos would be wise to further unleash Williams this coming season, and a split that trends more towards 65-35 in Williams’ favor would qualify as a sound decision by Hackett and his offensive coordinator Justin Outten, even if signs point to this being unlikely.
Williams is an electric playmaker that entered the 2021 NFL Draft as one of the most dynamic ball carriers in the nation. An ascending talent, Williams quickly hit the ground running as a rookie. Williams is a physical ball-carrier with the overall skill set to feature as a true three-down, bellcow back. His overall elusiveness and production after contact make Williams a dangerous runner and pass-catcher. The Broncos would be smart to lean on Williams as their true RB1, but the situation appears headed towards a true committee for the second consecutive season.
First, Patton is admittedly a huge fan of what Gordon brings to the Broncos both on and off the field. Paton remained interested in re-signing Gordon throughout the entire offseason despite already having Williams in the fold. Gordon and his representation tested the market before ultimately agreeing to return to Denver. Paton’s influence played a large role in Gordon’s decision to remain a Bronco.
Second, Hackett takes over the Broncos after serving as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator throughout a three-year stretch (2019-21) under the brilliant offensive mind of Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur. Hackett wasn’t the chief decision-maker and play-caller in Green Bay, but he helped LaFleur craft a balanced rushing attack in 2021 that trended more towards being a committee than previously expected. Aaron Jones handled 171 carries while A.J. Dillon led the Packers with 187 carries. It’s worth noting Jones missed two-regular season contests while Dillon appeared in all 17 games, but the final numbers are close enough to determine the Packers’ distributed backfield carries in more of a committee-based fashion.
Analyzing just how many carries will be available in Denver’s backfield is an exercise worth partaking in. The Broncos acquired superstar quarterback Russell Wilson earlier this offseason in a development that will undoubtedly make them a pass-heavy offense, especially when compared to last year’s iteration of the Broncos that averaged a less-than-league-median of 211.4 passing yards per contest. Wilson’s presence is expected to move the needle considerably forward in that department. Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and Albert Okwuegbunam will be kept busy by Wilson in a new-look passing attack. As a result, the Broncos may not reach the 413 carries their ball carriers (406 of which were awarded to Gordon and Williams) totaled in 2021.
Denver’s offense will experience a stark transition while becoming borderline unrecognizable as a result of breathtaking changes both in personnel and coaching. There may be less overall work available for their running backs, but all signs still point to Gordon and Williams dividing the workload for the second consecutive season. It qualifies as the likely outcome based on prior habits, but the Broncos would be wise to feature Williams on a more consistent basis.
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