Editor’s note: Third in a series previewing each Broncos position group entering the start of training camp on July 27.
Moments after the Broncos traded up five spots on April 30 to make Javonte Williams their second-round selection, the draft room erupted. High fives. Fist bumps. And a few hugs.
Identified by the Broncos as the draft’s top running back, new general manager George Paton moved from No. 40 to 35 to select Williams, who averaged a whopping 7.3 yards per carry last year for North Carolina.
“We just think he’s a special back,” Paton said. “A three-down back, really good on first and second down, he can pass protect and he can catch the ball (out of) the backfield.”
RELATED: How Broncos’ Javonte Williams went from unheralded, small-town running back to NFL draft pick
The Broncos’ Running Back Reset was two offseasons in the making.
In 2020, even though Phillip Lindsay had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, then-general manager John Elway signed Melvin Gordon to a two-year contract. And after allowing Lindsay to sign with Houston in free agency, the Broncos prioritized adding Williams.
In free agency, the Broncos signed free agent Mike Boone from Minnesota, where Paton previously worked. Keeping Gordon and adding Williams and Boone could make Royce Freeman expendable next month.
Melvin Gordon (free agent 2020), Royce Freeman (third round ’18), Damarea Crockett (free agent ‘20) and LeVante Bellamy (undrafted free agent ’20).
Gordon was 10th in the NFL in rushing yards (986) and tied for 11th in touchdowns (nine), but only two of his rushes are really memorable — a 43-yard touchdown at the New York Jets and a 65-yard gain at Kansas City.
It just hasn’t happened for Freeman, who was a third-round pick in 2018 and has only 1,187 yards rushing in three years. If a team is nicked up at tailback, Freeman could have late-August trade value.
Javonte Williams (second round), Mike Boone (free agent) and FB Adam Prentice (undrafted free agent).
Williams was the third tailback drafted after Najee Harris (Pittsburgh No. 23) and Travis Etienne (Jacksonville No. 24). Among his eye-popping statistics is his nose for the end zone (19 rushing touchdowns last year).
Boone played 456 special teams snaps in 2019-20 for the Vikings and will fill the same role for the Broncos, but don’t be surprised he does get some carries. He averaged 5.6 yards on 49 carries two years ago.
The Broncos didn’t carry a full-time fullback last year, making Prentice a long shot because tight end Andrew Beck can play the position if asked.
Phillip Lindsay (Houston).
During their five-year playoff drought, the Broncos’ running game ranks 20th in yards per game (110.3), tied for 18th in yards per carry (4.18) and 21st in touchdowns (61). Ho-hum for sure.
Their likely Plan A: Use Gordon and Williams as a tandem who can equal parts control the clock and produce big plays, increasing that per-carry average.
One possible scenario is Gordon starting the season opener — and maybe beyond — but Williams getting more and more work as he gets comfortable with the NFL game.
Number of note
15: Explosive rushes (gain of at least 12 yards) last year by Melvin Gordon; the Broncos had 34 as a team.
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