The Denver Broncos made some tectonic changes to their running back corps since the 2021 calendar year began. After tendering Phillip Lindsay as a restricted free agent, new GM George Paton ultimately rescinded it after talking with the former Pro Bowler's camp.
Lindsay signed a one-year deal with the Houston Texans, which (for a time) positioned Melvin Gordon as the unquestioned, understood running back No. 1, even after the Broncos opted to sign one of Paton's former Minnesota acolytes Mike Boone.
Gordon's position atop the hill didn't last long and receded all the quicker when the Broncos went hard after a running back when the NFL draft rolled around.
After North Carolina's Javonte Williams fell out of the first round, Paton and company struck while the iron was hot, adding a bonafide, franchise-upside running back to the roster by packaging a trade with the Atlanta Falcons to move up and draft him early in Round 2.
And then there were three... or four, if you count the suddenly on-the-outside-looking-in Royce Freeman, who's entering a contract year. In perhaps not the wisest decision, Gordon opted to skip the Broncos' voluntary OTAs, giving rise to Williams, who, despite the presence of the more-than-competent Boone, had more of a lion's share of the reps than he would have otherwise had.
Only time will tell whether Gordon's sabbatical indeed opened the door for Williams, even by a crack, which the rookie could have used to get his foot in and kick it wide open. Williams had an excellent offseason training program by all counts.
With most of the scrutiny and media focus being on the Broncos' burgeoning quarterback competition, what's going down at running back has been very much glossed over. Until Wednesday.
Head coach Vic Fangio took to the virtual podium following the Broncos' second practice of mandatory minicamp, which featured Gordon the day prior, too, and dished on how the running backs are distinguishing themselves thus far. Suffice to say, Fangio isn't worried about there being enough room at the bowl for these backs.
“Well, I think there’s enough work to be had for everybody if everybody proves they’re worthy," Fangio said. "I think you have to throw Mike Boone in that when you talk about that position too. All three of them just need to come back. We’ll carve a role for them."
As for Gordon, Fangio doesn't seem too worried about the veteran's tardiness to the party.
"Obviously, Melvin is an established back in this league, played good for us last year, and we like him," Fangio said.
Meanwhile, Fangio acknowledged the regard the Broncos have for their rookie second-rounder but didn't want to omit Boone from the conversation. Freeman, however, concerningly was.
"We obviously like Williams and we like Boone," Fangio said. "So you never have enough backs, and I’m confident that there will be enough work for all of them.”
As much as Williams garnered the praise of media since the offseason practices were opened to the media, Gordon shined in Tuesday and Wednesday's practice sessions, especially as a receiver out of the backfield. Receiving chops is not something Williams lacked as an NFL prospect, however, so that competition will be marque come training camp.
But what about Boone? We might rightly say that Freeman is the forgotten man in the Broncos' backfield, but Boone, being the newcomer, should not be overlooked or slept on. Fangio's review of the ex-Viking was highly complimentary.
“He’s quick’ he’s decisive; he can run," Fangio said of Boone. "He’s a great guy, great teammate, works hard. Obviously [General Manager] George [Paton] knew him well from Minnesota. He has not disappointed in any way. Really happy we have him. I think he’s a very capable running back. We think he’ll make a strong contribution to the special teams. Really, really happy to have him; he’s solid.”
The Broncos can use all the help they can get in the third phase but it wouldn't be surprising to see Boone carve out a role on offense, especially if either Gordon or Williams are unfortunate enough to get nicked up. Few expected Boone to factor into this competition so quickly after the Broncos spent a premium-round draft pick on Williams.
Gordon is a veteran and this isn't the first time a team he's been on drafted or acquired a back to potentially supplant him as a starter. The two-time Pro Bowler remains highly confident in his skill-set.
“I’m very confident, man," Gordon said following Tuesday's practice. "Wherever the cards fall, they fall. I can’t really worry about that too much. I know that’s kind of the talk. The media is making it Javonte versus Melvin. Who’s going to start? This and that. It’s not really about that. It’s about us winning football games [and it’s] about us competing."
Gordon assured Broncos Country that he's going to give 2021 100% in an effort to bring a winning brand of football back to the Mile High City.
"I’m going to go out here and give my everything to this team because that’s what this team deserves," Gordon said. "[We’re] trying to put the Broncos on the map and keep us on the map. Like I said, I don’t feel like we’re getting the respect that we deserve. We have been losing and we had a losing season last year. It comes with that."
As much as Gordon might daydream about being the Broncos' featured back, especially with a 17th game added to the regular-season schedule, this team is going to need more than one viable ball-carrier to call on.
"You definitely need two backs," Gordon said. "At some point in time, we’re going to need him, we’re going to need Royce and we’re going to need Boone. It’s a tough game and we have an extra game this year. We have to do what we have to do.”
Hey, at least someone's thinking about Freeman.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!