Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press
The Denver Broncos somewhat surprisingly drafted running back Javonte Williams on Friday with the No. 35 pick in the second round, leaving fantasy players wondering how he’ll fare in his new home.
Given the presence of Melvin Gordon and Royce Freeman in Denver’s backfield, the outlook isn’t great for Williams’ fantasy prospects.
First, some background. The 20-year-old tore it up for North Carolina in 2020, rushing for 1,140 yards on just 157 attempts (7.3 YPC). He notched 19 touchdowns on the ground and added 25 catches for 305 yards and another three scores.
That had Williams rising up draft boards and put him in contention to be the first running back off the board, with Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne the other candidates for the honor (Harris went first, at No. 24 overall, followed by Etienne one selection later).
Brian Baldinger @BaldyNFL
.@TarHeelFootball #JavonteWilliams crushes his contact battles. Day 1 starting RB in the #NFL. Take it to the bank #BaldysBreakdowns https://t.co/SJc3R9i6Nu
Louis Riddick @LRiddickESPN
Everything I love about 🏈 summed up in one play and the team’s reaction on the sideline @TarHeelFootball @CoachMackBrown #NFLDraft #JavonteWilliams https://t.co/FyeygqlkEa
Mike Clay @MikeClayNFL
Javonte Williams had the best 2020 FMT/YAC profile among this year’s rookie RB class….and he’s also one of the youngest RBs in the class. Consider me intrigued.
Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus ranked Williams as the No. 2 running back in the class of 2021 behind Etienne, calling him a “human pinball machine who refuses to go down without a fight.”
“His 76 broken tackles on 157 attempts this past season set the PFF record for broken tackles per attempt. He has an ideal build at 5’10”, 220 pounds, with short-area explosiveness that makes you think those broken tackles will continue in gobs at the NFL level. While he may not be the elite athlete that Etienne is, Williams is still well above average for the position.”
Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network called Williams a “complete player” who could “emerge as the best running back in the 2021 class” in late February.
He added that the Wallace, North Carolina, native “is a thick, compact running back with outstanding vision, power and quickness” and said he has “tremendous lateral quickness to make defenders miss in tight quarters.”
What makes Williams so tantalizing as a prospect is that he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. He has the strength, durability and vision to run inside, the speed to kick it outside, the ability to evade tacklers with both power and quickness and is both an able pass-blocker and pass-catcher.
Denver nabbed itself a dangerous offensive weapon, and one who could emerge as a real fantasy mainstay at some point in his career.
But next year? Next year, it’s hard to be thrilled with his fantasy upside, given that Gordon is on the roster and fresh off a 986-yard, nine-touchdown season. At the very best, this feels like it’s headed for a timeshare and perhaps an equal split between the two players.
In other scenarios, Williams would have perhaps been the immediate starter. In Denver, that feels less likely. Perhaps at some point he will overtake the feature back role. But for the time being, expect a platoon, and expect both players to sit in the flex range because of it.