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Fantasy Case Against Javonte Williams: Too Much Melvin Gordon

Second-year back has the talent to carry the load, but there’s no denying the Broncos have a dynamic duo in the backfield.

The summer is here, meaning we’re getting closer to the start of fantasy football drafts. Success in those drafts will come from landing terrific bargains in the middle to late rounds while avoiding players who could see their numbers decline compared to 2021. That latter exercise isn’t easy, however, especially in the case of players who are among the elite at their position or are coming off breakout seasons in the stat sheets.

Case in point: In 2020, David Montgomery emerged into a fantasy superstar as the lead running back in Chicago. He finished fourth in fantasy points at the position while putting up career highs across the board. That success made him a surefire top-20 selection in most 2021 redrafts. Many fantasy folks just trusted that because Montgomery was so good in his breakout campaign, he’d be just as good the following year. Unfortunately for those of you who invested a high draft selection or auction bid on him to be your No. 1 fantasy running back, that would not be the case.

Montgomery had a respectable season, it just wasn’t elite. His yards per carry average went from 4.3 to 3.8, and his fantasy points per game average dropped by almost three points. He would finish as the RB21, or a full 17 spots worse than his 2020 campaign.

The point here is that fantasy managers trusted Montgomery too much after he broke out. Of course, you were warned about him if you read my Fantasy Case against article on the Chicago back heading into 2021. That leads me to continue the series, where I’ll do my due diligence in looking at players who everyone in fantasy seems to think is a sure bet to remain uber-productive after finding a high level of success in past years.

Next up, let’s take a look at Broncos second-year running back Javonte Williams.

Fantasy Case Against: Cooper Kupp | Davante Adams | Deebo Samuel | Amon-Ra St. Brown | Diontae Johnson | Cordarrelle Patterson | Michael Thomas | James Conner

Denver Broncos Javonte Williams

2021 season

Williams came out of North Carolina with an elevated level of expectations, so much so that the Broncos moved up in the NFL draft to land him in the second round. That carried over into fantasy drafts, as Williams was a near top-50 pick despite the presence of Melvin Gordon. While he did have a nice rookie year, Williams was in a near 50-50 split with the veteran. That lowered his statistical ceiling -- Williams finished as the RB17 with 1,219 scrimmage yards and seven total touchdowns. Gordon put up more fantasy points per game, but the duo was nearly mirror images in terms of production.

Did you know?

Williams and Gordon were ridiculously close in the stat sheets last year. Williams played 34 more offensive snaps, but he played in one more game so that’s to be expected. On a per game basis, the duo both averaged around 32 snaps. They also finished with exactly 203 rush attempts and were within 15 rushing yards of each other.

Williams had a bigger edge in the passing game, playing in 27 more snaps with 15 more targets, 15 more catches and 113 more receiving yards. He had a small lead in touch percentage (30.4 to 28.6), but the difference was negligible, and Gordon averaged more points per game by 0.14. Like I said, the duo was unbelievably close in production.

Historical trends

The Broncos have had some elite fantasy running backs during the last 25 years, none better than Terrell Davis and Clinton Portis. However, the team hasn’t produced a back with more than 300 PPR points since Portis did it in 2003. In the last 20 years, Denver has seen just two backs (Knowshon Moreno – 2013, Phillip Lindsay – 2018) score more than 220 points. In the last decade, no Broncos runner has finished better than 13th in points at the position (Lindsay – 2018). He averaged a respectable 14.6 points a game.

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One final historical note: No Broncos running back has seen more than 245 rushing attempts in the last 10 single seasons. Williams and Gordon (203 carries in 2021) are tied for the sixth-most on the team in that statistical department during that time.

Coaching & personnel changes

Nathanial Hackett will serve as the team’s new head coach after serving as an offensive coordinator for eight seasons between the Bills, Jaguars and Packers. Justin Outten will be the new OC, but Hackett will be the real brains behind the offense and play calling.

Running backs have had success under Hackett, as his offenses have produced three top-12 fantasy seasons. Aaron Jones (2019, 2021) and Leonard Fournette (2017) both hit that mark, while T.J. Yeldon was the RB14 in 14 games under Hackett in 2018. He likes to use one featured back when possible, but Hackett did run a committee in 2016 with Yeldon and Chris Ivory. Hackett also had a committee for what would be his final season in Green Bay, as Jones and A.J. Dillon both saw a 26% touch share in the offense.

Verdict

The fantasy love affair with Williams was evident earlier in the offseason, as he was the sixth running back off the board (7.9 ADP overall) in the month of April on the National Fantasy Football Championships website. I used April as a base because Gordon re-signed with the Broncos at the end of that month. Williams has dropped in drafts since, but he’s still the RB9 and a surefire second-round selection (15.2 overall on NFFC).

While I love his talent, Williams isn’t going to get a far bigger workload (unless injuries occur) than he did as a rookie with Gordon in the mix. The veteran remains a physical specimen who has averaged 4.5 yards per attempt in his first two seasons in Denver. That’s an increase on the 3.8 yards he averaged in his final year with the Chargers.

Gordon also led Williams in red-zone looks (42 to 36) last season despite playing in one fewer game, so he’s a threat to take away some goal-line opportunities in the offense.

Fantasy managers should also consider that the Broncos will be far more productive in terms of the pass attack, as Russell Wilson is a huge upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock at the quarterback position. Denver was 22nd in pass percentage last year, throwing the ball 56% of the time. Those totals will increase with Wilson under center. And if Hackett does in fact “let Russ cook,” it’s possible the team sees a decline in the 43.9% rushing mark it saw last season with the Williams/Gordon committee.

In his last four seasons as a coordinator, Hackett ran the ball at a rate of 41.6%, 44.7%, 40.3% and 40.6%. That’s fine when you have one featured back to eat up most of the touches, but it could be tough to decipher who sees more touches on a week-to-week basis when you have a duo as good as Williams and Gordon splitting the workload. And trust me, the veteran isn’t going to fade into the sidelines during his age-29 season.

Would I still draft Williams as a No. 2 fantasy back? Absolutely, and I’d feel pretty good about having him in that role. But selecting him to be my No. 1 runner is a risk I’m not willing to take while Gordon is still a part of this uber-talented backfield committee.

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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!