Back Williams to Have Key Role With Broncos

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Williams to Have Key Role With Broncos

By Dave Holcomb
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Denver is counting former North Carolina running back Javonte Williams to be the guy to improve the offense significantly.

There’s no secret about where the Denver Broncos need to improve. The Broncos have been in the bottom half of the league in offensive yards each of the last five years. During the same stretch, Denver hasn’t been better than 22nd in points scored.

Offense has been a problem in the Mile High City, particularly quarterback. But other than taking a flier on Teddy Bridgewater, the Broncos chose not to upgrade their signal caller this offseason.

So with Bridgewater or Drew Lock (assuming an Aaron Rodgers trade doesn’t happen) starting behind center, the Broncos front office needed to surround their quarterbacks with as many weapons as possible. Denver did that last year, drafting six offensive players, including three in the first three rounds -- wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and center  Lloyd Cushenberry III.

But this year, the Broncos only selected three offensive players with 10 draft picks. Only two of three offensive picks were on the first two days of the draft, and one of them was center Quinn Meinerz.

Essentially, Denver is counting former North Carolina running back Javonte Williams, the only skilled player the Broncos took before the sixth round in 2021, to be the guy to improve the offense significantly.

That’s a tall order for any rookie landing on a team that’s really struggled offensively and still doesn’t have a competent quarterback. But Williams is equipped about as good as any offensive player in the 2021 class to handle this responsibility.

The past two seasons at North Carolina, Williams was part of a lethal running back combination. In 2019, Williams and teammate Michael Carter each rushed for more than 900 yards and averaged more than 5.6 yards per carry.

In 2020, they were both even better.

Carter led the team with 1,245 rushing yards while averaging almost 8.0 yards per carry. Williams more than held its own, posting 1,140 rushing yards with a 7.3 yards per attempt. Incredibly, just one carry separated the two backs (Williams 157, Carter 156).

But both seasons, Williams had a better nose for the goal line. He scored six times in 2019 and then exploded for 22 touchdowns last fall. Nineteen of those 22 touchdowns were on the ground, which tied a North Carolina record from 1970.

It wasn’t long ago that the Broncos had their own very effective running back duo. Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay entered the league together in 2018 and combined for more than 1,500 rushing yards during their rookie season in 2018. Lindsay posted back-to-back 1,000 seasons on the ground to begin his career.

To bolster the ground game even further, Denver added two-time Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon in free agency last March. He finished just shy of a thousand-yard season with 986 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns in 2020.

But Lindsay left in free agency, signing a 1-year deal with the Houston Texans. The Broncos also appear to have soured on Freeman, as he had just 35 carries despite playing in all 16 games last year.

Denver added Mike Boone in free agency, but it’s hard to believe he’s going to be a difference maker in the Broncos backfield. He had just 11 carries last season and has only 71 rushing attempts in his 3-year career.

With the quarterback situation the way it is, the Broncos had to address running back early in the draft. Adding Williams does that, giving Denver not only much-needed depth at an injury-prone position, but a player who can make an immediate impact and could become a star in the league.

“Big, broad bully back who runs with an exciting blend of animosity and feel as a future every-down starter in the league,” wrote NFL analyst Lance Zierlein. “He will drop passes from time to time but has the route-running and protection toughness to take over as a three-down RB1 fairly early in his career.”

It will be interesting to see how Williams fits with Gordon because the two have similar running styles. Williams is a bruiser and loves battering poor tacklers to the ground. That could lead to a shorter career, but Williams enters the league about as fresh as can be with only 416 touches in college.

With three other veteran running backs, the Broncos don’t have to rush along Williams in training camp. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone who watched him closely at North Carolina to see him seize his opportunities during the preseason and carve out a substantial role for the 2021 season.

For their offense to improve, the Broncos are counting on that happening.