Javonte Williams

Javonte Williams


Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams.

The Denver Broncos thought they had one of the NFL’s up-and-coming running backs after Javonte Williams ran for 903 yards as a rookie in 2021 — part of a season in which the second-round pick out of North Carolina had over 1,200 yards of total offense and 7 touchdowns.

What’s happened over the next two seasons has given fans little hope Williams will be able to crack that elite level of running backs, although Denver head coach Sean Payton seems to be holding out hope.

Williams played four games in 2022 before suffering a season-ending knee injury and had 1,002 yards of total offense in 2023 — 774 rushing and 228 receiving — and 5 touchdowns but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.

“I think historically speaking, when you talk to the experts, they say that the complete heal finishes at two years,” Payton told ESPN’s Jeff Legwold. “Obviously you begin playing before then . . . I know that he’s looking forward to [this season]. The challenge last year was really when you think about it, even in training camp, it was still early enough in the process where it was hard for him to go full speed with confidence. And yet we were building and getting him where we all felt comfortable he could play.”

The Broncos haven’t had a player go over 1,000 rushing yards in a single season since Phillip Lindsay ran for 1,011 yards in 2019.

Williams Struggled in Return From Injury

Williams’ struggles in his return from injury in 2023 were indicative of his team’s struggles as a whole — a Broncos season defined by the tumult between star quarterback Russell Wilson and his new head coach.

While Wilson and Payton beefed behind the scenes then publicly, Williams and the rest of his teammates were essentially collateral damage. Meaning Williams probably returned from his injury too early even though he led the Broncos in rushing.

A closer look at Williams’ stats per game show he ran out of gas down the stretch. The Broncos lost three of their last four games in the regular season — while they were battling for a playoff spot — and Williams was especially bad. In those last four games, Williams averaged 31.0 rushing yards and 10.2 receiving yards and scored 2 touchdowns.

Broncos Added Running Back in 2024 NFL Draft

The Broncos aren’t putting all of their eggs into the Williams basket when it comes to the backfield. Denver drafted Notre Dame running back Audric Estime in the fifth round (No. 147 overall) and spent five of their seven draft picks on offensive players.

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox put Estime on his list of the most underrated additions in the entire NFL headed into the season after he rushed for 1,341 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2023 while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

“Fifth-round running back Audric Estime is unlikely to get nearly as much attention this summer. However, he could play a very important role as a rookie in 2024,” Knox wrote. “Regardless of which quarterback earns the Week 1 job, Denver needs to support him with a strong running game. The Broncos’ receiving corps lacks a top-end receiver and few dependable targets after Courtland Sutton.”

Tony Adame covers the NFL for Heavy.com, with a focus on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Commanders and Denver Broncos. A veteran sports writer and editor since 2004, his work has been featured at Stadium Talk, Yardbarker, NW Florida Daily News and Pensacola News Journal. More about Tony Adame

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