Running backs have been so devalued over the last 10 years in the NFL that a general manager can spark criticism for trading up five spots to draft one in the second round — even one whom many analysts had graded as the No. 1 prospect at his position in North Carolina's Javonte Williams.
The former UNC star forced a total of 76 missed tackles on runs last season, per Pro Football Focus, and that ability to pick up yards after contact prompted Denver Broncos' GM George Paton to orchestrate a trade-up with Atlanta to select Williams with the No. 35 pick in last week's NFL draft.
Williams has drawn comparisons to Cleveland's Nick Chubb, who has used the same physical type of running style to great effect as an NFL running back. Williams admitted to being flattered by such comparisons but also stressed that he has his own distinct style of playing.
“I don’t try to play like Nick Chubb," Williams said via conference call after he was drafted. "I kind of feel like my own person, but I do hear that a lot. Nick Chubb is a great player, so if I’m getting that comparison, then I’m doing something right.”
Paton was not afraid to boldly step into the line of critical fire to land the man he feels can be a productive three-down back for the Broncos.
“We feel he’s a three-down back,” Paton told Phil Milano of the team website. ”He’s got incredible instincts, incredible contact balance... He was one of our favorite players in the draft.”
Williams concurs with Paton's three-down assessment and viewed himself as the top dog among his fellow 2021 running back prospects, despite Clemson's Travis Etienne being the first player at the position to hear his name called don draft day (No. 25 overall to Jacksonville).
“I definitely feel like I am the best running back in the draft," Williams said. "Having to sit through the entire first round yesterday was hard for me. I’ve always been overlooked throughout my career. It’s something else for me to go even harder for.”
Finding a reason to grow an extra chip on his shoulder and doing whatever it takes to give himself a mental edge is what Williams is all about. The rookie also echoed the confidence of his new boss when he talked up how effectively his skill-set can translate to the next level.
“As far as how my game translates, I am a three-down back," Williams said boldly. "I feel like I’m very versatile. I feel like I can do everything at the running back position, and I’m just ready to come in and compete with RBs Melvin Gordon [III], [Mike] Boone, [Royce] Freeman, and any other running back in the room. I can pick things from them and try to get better every day.”
With Phillip Lindsay now collecting his NFL checks in Houston, Williams will have the opportunity to compete for real playing time in Denver. Gordon might feel like he's underappreciated by the NFL world at large but Williams probably won't lose much sleep if/when he usurps the Broncos' starting running back job and sends the veteran to the sideline.
Williams will have to earn touches and then share them with Gordon initially. That's no bother to the rookie.
“I’m not concerned at all," Williams said about splitting reps. "I’m just ready to get in and play. I don’t know my role, but I’m going to do whatever it takes to get on the field. Whenever my time is called, I’m just going to do whatever I’ve got to do.”
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
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