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Predicting Which Broncos RB Will Finish with More Touches in 2022: Melvin Gordon III or Javonte Williams

It's time to project what the future holds for the Broncos' talented backfield.

In the NFL, one might assume that it's impossible to perfectly distribute running back carries across a full 17-game season. However, that's exactly how it shook out for the Denver Broncos' top-two backs last year in Melvin Gordon III and Javonte Williams. 

Each back carried the ball 203 times. However, it was Williams who ultimately gained the advantage in touches by catching 43 passes to Gordon's 30. 

Entering the 2022 offseason, Gordon's contract expired and it was assumed that the Broncos would turn their focus to an all-in sort of commitment in Williams, who, after all, was the team's 2021 second-round draft pick. The Broncos even traded up for the privilege of drafting Williams early Day 2. 

Then, on the doorstep of the 2022 NFL draft, the Broncos agreed to terms with Gordon on a new contract — albeit one that will pay him almost a quarter of what he earned on his previous two-year, $8 million deal. With a $2.485M cap number this season, the Broncos are paying Gordon just enough to keep him locked in. 

It's also just enough to keep the Broncos' coaches up at night if they're not using Gordon. Thus, head coach Nathaniel Hackett's running-back-by-committee philosophy will be meted out by the Broncos in 2022.

The question on many fans' minds is, which running back will receive the lion's share of the carries? I was asked this very question today by a colleague in NFL media and frankly, I was at a relative loss in answering it with confidence. 

But the question inspired me to tackle the topic by writing about it and, thus, providing the chance to more thoughtfully suss out the answer. However, regardless of what even the most ardent hot-take artists in media will lead you to believe, nobody has a crystal ball. 

It's impossible to perfectly predict anything in the NFL, let alone how the touch share between two very good running backs might shake out. Still, what's the fun in surrendering to that sort of football nihilism? 

Let's dive into the subject matter. 

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Age vs. Experience

At the end of the day, Williams is 22 years old and Gordon is 29. That alone provides a hint at how the Broncos might be viewing the distribution of touches this coming season. Williams still has plenty of tread left on his tires because he's been in a backfield time share dating all the way back to his beginnings at North Carolina. 

Gordon has split carries for the majority of his NFL career, too. So even though he's entering his eighth season, he's not the typical near-30 NFL veteran back on the brink of falling off the cliff. 

No, Gordon looked just as spry and explosive as he ever has last season. But Williams seems to be the hungrier, more fierce, and fearless back. 

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Hackett's Green Bay Resume

Last season in Green Bay, as Packers offensive coordinator, Hackett presided over a distribution of running back carries that skewed from 187 for AJ Dillon to 171 for Aaron Jones. Despite being a 15-game starter last year, Jones was edged out by Dillon. 

It wouldn't be shocking to see Hackett name Gordon the starter in Denver after the dust of training camp settles — only to see Williams finish the season with more touches, yards, and scores. Then again, reverse that and nobody would be surprised. 

Scheme

One fly in the ointment of unthinkingly predicting Williams the eventual touch-share winner in Denver is the team's move to a wide-zone rushing attack, which is a modest departure from Pat Shurmur's gap-centric-slightly-sprinkled-with-inside-zone philosophy of the past two years. We already know that Gordon can thrive in the wide-zone scheme.

It takes more of a true projection to say the same for Williams. However, the kid has a big football IQ so I'm reluctant to sell him short on how he'll acclimate to Hackett's new scheme and if the early returns from OTAs are any indication, Williams will take to the wide-zone like a duck to water. 

Prediction: Williams

At this stage, I'm inclined to err on the side of Williams' youthful mojo and hunger to prove himself over a veteran in Gordon who couldn't be bothered to show up to any of the non-mandatory offseason workouts the Broncos hosted. To each his own, but Williams' commitment juxtaposed with Gordon's reticence reveals arguably the more driven player. 

Drive plays a big role in which of these elite athletes win jobs in the NFL where the talent margin between players is often razor-thin. For that reason, I'm betting on Williams being this team's RB1 — from a statistical standpoint. 

Call it a 60/40 split in Williams' favor. 

But make no mistake: Gordon is going to see the field... a lot. Where this leaves Mike Boone on Year 2 of his $3.85M deal is anybody's guess. 

Williams is out to prove himself in the NFL while Gordon has two Pro Bowl nods under his belt and has already made most of the money he ever will as a professional. Don't underestimate the power of drive in any young player, especially one as focused, smart, and intense as Williams. 


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