It was only a matter of carries before Broncos Country recognized Javonte Williams and his talent as he consistently pummeled defenses as a rookie. The seismic waves generated by the former Tar Heel made waves throughout the NFL and as a result, he is already receiving great respect.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler’s article ranking the NFL’s top 10 running backs based on votes from 50 executives, coaches and players had Williams rounding out the list at tenth. Behind Williams on the list as honorable mentions were Austin Ekeler, Ezekiel Elliot and Saquon Barkley.
This week in the Broncos Film Room, we look back on some of Williams’ best moments from 2021 to break down his game and put a projection on his ceiling moving forward.
Before we dig into his rookie season, if I get an excuse to include this highlight and talk about it I’m going to take that chance every time. This run was Williams’ career highlight at North Carolina and shows all of his best traits at the same time.
Immediately, Williams faces defenders in the backfield and has to make a cut to evade tacklers. From there it’s all-natural talent. His ability to hurdle a tackle and only need a few steps to regain his balance and flatten a defensive back show how strong Williams’ center of gravity is and how quickly he is able to recover from contact. I always loved how Williams fired up the sideline on this play and come off the field shaking his head, he knows he could have taken that one to the end zone.
Williams’ ability to bowl through defenders with balance, strength and tenacity continued where he left off when he got to Denver. Williams adapted to the NFL almost immediately and provided some important carries for the Broncos despite only receiving 78 carries through the first eight weeks.
This play felt like Williams was formally introducing himself to the NFL. The Broncos are running power to the boundary but Baltimore denies Williams as he attempts to follow Quinn Meinerz through the designed hole. Then he turns into a bowling ball and carries Marlon Humphrey nearly 20 yards down the field.
The following week, Williams ripped off another big run against the Steelers.
Here Williams shows that he is also able to exploit defenses and rip off chunks of yardage in space. He only ran a 4.55 at his pro day coming out of North Carolina, but he posted great explosive numbers with a 36” vertical jump, 123” broad jump and 6.93 three-cone time. That explosion showed up here as he makes a cut to dispose of the safety and split the defense before being dragged down inside the five.
Although Melvin Gordon out carried Williams 21-17 against Dallas in Week 9, Williams proved he is able to lead a backfield while racking up 111 yards against the Cowboys.
This play is bottled up for a modest gain of about eight yards but Williams refuses to go down and keeps his legs churning through the Dallas defense to break free and turn a good second down run into a chunk play and fresh set of downs for the Broncos.
Both Williams and Gordon started to pick up steam and put up some productive performances in the second half of 2021. Williams received the biggest workload of his rookie season in Week 13 when Melvin Gordon was inactive due to injury. The Broncos struggled to produce points due to general incompetence on offense and inefficient quarterback play, but Williams left his mark on the hated division rival.
Williams has great vision and on this run he is able to hit the backside hole on this split zone run to take advantage of the Chiefs’ over pursuit on defense.
Again, great vision from Williams to find the hole on the backside of the formation. I love the contrast in his ability on this run. He’s able to get skinny and squeeze through a hole right behind Noah Fant but also shows that toughness and strength as he pushes on violently through the second level.
2022 Expectations and Beyond
Javonte Williams’ talent as a pure runner is proven, so how can he take the next step?
The most obvious area of emphasis for Williams has to be in the passing game as a blocker and as a receiver. While he is already more than capable in those areas, can he elevate his impact in the passing game to become a true three-down threat?
Williams finished the 2021 season with 43 receptions for 316 yards. A solid showing, but definite room to grow. Again, the entire Denver passing game was limited due to coaching and quarterback play but Williams shows on this play he only needs the ball in his hands to make plays for the Broncos.
In the 2021 offense, Williams was limited to simple screen plays, flares, curls, swings and check and release routes out of the backfield. I’m not asking for Williams to be used like Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara or Austin Ekeler, but it’s fair to say that the Broncos did not utilize his full skillset out of the backfield.
With the additions of Russell Wilson, Nathaniel Hackett and Justin Outten, look for the Broncos to get Williams the ball in more creative ways and in possible option scenarios with No. 3 now under center.
Williams proved to be reliable in pass protection and does a great job of picking up the blitz on this play against Kansas City. The Broncos actually pick up the blitz and give Bridgewater a solid pocket to throw from but the quarterback rushes the throw and dirts it.
We didn’t get to see many de-cleaters from Williams in pass pro last season, but this was one of his more impactful collisions as a blocker.
It’s clear that Williams has the entire package to be one of the best pure runners in the NFL. With Melvin Gordon returning, the Broncos are set to have one of if not the best running back duos in the league. While this may limit Williams’ true ceiling in 2022, the Broncos seem to have a long-term plan for him as they attempt to put a soft cap on the number of touches he will have his first few years in the league.
Williams has the ability to be a true lead back for the Broncos. We saw it in the first Kansas City game last season. Not many backs in the NFL have the strength, contact balance and tackle-breaking ability that Williams does. If his rookie season included nearly 1,000 rushing yards and earned himself recognition as the 10th best back in the NFL, becoming a top 5 rusher is completely feasible.
The Broncos won’t have to lean on Williams and the running game as much in 2022 as they had to in previous years. While that may be due to the new coaching and a new quarterback in town, Williams also has the ability to build on an impressive rookie season and become a household name.
The 2022 Denver Broncos are projected to have the best offense the Mile High City has seen since Peyton Manning was calling the shots.
They may also have their best running back since Clinton Portis in Javonte Williams.