Anxious and frustrated Denver Broncos fans who had their offensive hopes dashed in Round 1 of the NFL draft when GM George Paton did not trade up to take a quarterback, didn’t have to wait long to see a similar move made on Day 2.
On Friday, the Broncos executed a trade with the Atlanta Falcons moving up five spots to pick 35 to select North Carolina running back Javonte Williams. In exchange for the third selection in the second round, Denver got back a sixth-rounder (219) and sent picks 40 and 144 (fourth round) to Atlanta.
So, how should Broncos Country feel about its newest offensive weapon?
Best RB in the Draft
Although Williams was the third running back to come off the board, I ranked him as the best in the entire 2021 class. The 21-year-old North Carolina native has shades of Cleveland's Pro Bowler Nick Chubb to his game which is one of the biggest reasons Denver had to leapfrog five teams to guarantee him.
At 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds, Williams is a powerful and aggressive downhill runner which adds up after you learn that he’s a converted linebacker. He welcomes contact and runs with reckless abandon, making him an ideal candidate to wake up a team that Paton previously described as a “sleeping giant.”
Last season, Williams rushed for 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns in addition to catching 25 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, his performance was so dynamic that he was also listed as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. His discipline allows him to follow and trust his blocking scheme.
Williams also demonstrates versatility in the passing game which will undoubtedly allow his football acumen to flourish in the NFL especially in Broncos' offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's scheme. Furthermore, Williams has a nose for the end zone, and an innate ability to manipulate his large frame through the smallest of holes.
Williams enters the Broncos’ running back room that currently features Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone, Royce Freeman, and 2020 college free agent LeVante Bellamy. With the rich contract that Denver owes Gordon in 2021, I don’t anticipate the North Carolina product to snatch the 'featured back' title quite yet.
However, the hot hand sometimes gets the nod, and if an injury or performance deficit gives Williams an opportunity to start, I’d expect him to snatch the job permanently and never look back. Denver didn’t waste any time replacing Phillip Lindsay and will likely say goodbye to Freeman after the 2021 season.
As for confidence, Williams doesn’t appear to be lacking any which I’m sure will inform his NFL trajectory.
“I definitely feel like the best RB in the draft,” Williams told us during a virtual presser immediately following his selection on Friday evening.
Paton Can be Aggressive
Paton’s first two selections in the draft — cornerback Patrick Surtain II and Williams — indicate that he’s comfortable with utilizing a similar draft strategy that he helped implement with the Minnesota Vikings. By trading up to select the Tarheels' star, Paton prioritized a position that most in the NFL deem to be too expensive for a premium-round Day 2 selection.
If the Broncos' offense is going to improve, regardless of the quarterback, it needs to be able to run the football. Behind these most basic and archaic of principles, Denver could potentially put itself in a position to score points, control the clock, and most importantly, allow its defense to win football games.
Many in Broncos Country insist that the first-year GM flinched by not drafting QB in Round 1. However, I’d counter by saying that Paton has demonstrated a calculated and deliberate draft strategy. On Williams' first exposure to local media, he revealed that he didn’t have any contact with Denver pre-draft, much like his new teammate Surtain.
Paton knew that he had to leapfrog at least one team to select the man that could be depended upon to be the lead horse of the Broncos' backfield. Williams is a three-down back, which is rare in a day and age where Air Raid offenses dominate the primetime ratings.
To match his North Carolina blood, Williams is a blue-collar football player willing to punish linebackers and linemen in pass protection. Although his film reveals a few drops as a receiver, his route running and attention to detail are consistently echoed throughout the scouting community.
To some, the strategy of monitoring prospects from a distance to keep NFL rivals (and media) guessing seems silly. But with most being surprised with Paton’s first two selections, the proof appears to be in the pudding.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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