Sean Payton Comment Could Forecast Big Things for Broncos RB Javonte Williams

The Denver Broncos need Javonte Williams to fully return to form, and in a contract year, all the stars are aligning.
Dec 10, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA;  Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) celebrates his touchdown scored against the against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 10, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) celebrates his touchdown scored against the against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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When Denver Broncos running back went down with a multi-ligament knee injury four games into the 2022 season, its grievous nature threatened his young NFL career. However, not only did Williams bounce back from the injury, he did so in shockingly quick fashion.

Williams was a full go starting in Week 1 of the 2023 season. He would go on to appear in 16 games (13 starts), totaling 774 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 217 carries.

Williams' yards-per-carry average plummeted to 3.6, but there were multiple factors in that decrease. No doubt, his recovery from the injury played some role, as did the mind games that a player wages internally in terms of confidence and trusting that recently healed injury.

"The challenge last year was really when you think about it, even in training camp, it was still early enough in the process where it was hard for him to go full speed with confidence," head coach Sean Payton said last week. "And yet we were building and getting him where we all felt comfortable, he could play. I think he’s looking forward to this year and certainly the confidence in his health and the strength in his knee.”

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Honestly, the bigger culprit in Williams' declining YPC average was the Broncos offense and its lackluster passing attack with Russell Wilson under center. Wilson couldn't find a rhythm as a passer, and every yard gained through the air seemed dearly bought, which allowed defenses to stack the box and, essentially, sell out to stop the run.

That left very little running room for Williams and his fellow Broncos running backs, but they made the most of it as Payton stayed committed to the ground attack despite the opposition's clear defensive mandate.

Fast forward to 2024, and Wilson is gone. His departure coincides with Williams entering a contract year. In Wilson's place, the Broncos drafted Bo Nix in the first round — a quarterback primed to be the prototypical Payton triggerman who gets the ball out on time and distributes it to the playmakers.

That's good news for Williams and Denver's ground game. If Nix is even half the player Payton thinks he is, defenses will quickly learn that stacking the box on first and second down is a risky strategy, which will loosen things up for Williams.

As the Broncos march through OTAs, Payton provided an update on how his No. 1 running back is looking as he approaches his second season since recovering from that brutal knee injury.

“He’s been looking good," Payton said last week. "I think historically speaking, when you talk to the experts, they say that the complete heal finishes at two years. Obviously you begin playing before then, but he’s been doing well. He’s in shape. I know that he’s looking forward to [the season]."

As a rookie second-rounder back in 2021, Williams played second fiddle to Melvin Gordon, and yet, he still rushed for north of 900 yards. With an offensive line returning four of five starters this season, the changes Denver made at quarterback, and Williams approaching the two-year mark of his injury, the deck is being stacked in his favor to maximize his opportunity to cash in on a contract year.

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Chad Jensen

CHAD JENSEN

Chad Jensen is the Founder of Mile High Huddle and creator of the wildly popular Mile High Huddle Podcast. Chad has been on the Denver Broncos beat since 2012 and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.