When the Denver Broncos (3-1) take the field, October 10, to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3) at Heinz Field, they’ll go in knowing their rookie running back is every bit as good as his counterpart — despite being selected 11 picks later in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Broncos’ stellar running back, Javonte Williams, has been turning heads around the league, despite playing third fiddle to two other neophytes in the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Travis Etienne, who is lost for the season with a torn ACL, and the Steelers’ Najee Harris, who Williams will be facing on October 10.
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Harris was selected with the 24th-overall pick, Etienne was nabbed one pick later, while Williams was drafted at No. 35 overall — the third pick in the second round.
Trading up for a gem
First-year general manager George Paton targeted Williams in the second round, but the team’s initial draft position in that round (40th overall) was far too low to get someone of Williams’s talent. That’s when Paton decided to trade up with the Atlanta Falcons and leapfrog the competition to make sure other running back-needy teams didn’t get his man.
Denver packaged a draft-night deal for Williams to move up five spots. The transaction included swapping second-round picks, with the Falcons also getting an additional 2021 fourth-round pick from the Broncos.
So far, that maneuver has paid dividends for Paton and the Broncos, as Williams has stepped right into a timeshare with solid veteran Melvin Gordon III. Williams has been as good as advertised, as he’s been pressing Gordon III for more reps, and has actually been more productive than Harris, despite being an RB1A, while the Steelers’ back is the unquestioned bell cow.
Gordon III has 51 carries for 248 yards and two scores, and Harris has logged 55 carries for 185 yards and a score. Williams, meanwhile, has rushed for 186 yards, even though he’s carried the ball nine less times than Harris.
Even Opponents are Taking Notice
The Steelers are undoubtedly happy with having Harris as their RB1, but that doesn’t mean some within the organization can’t be fans of a rival. Count head coach Mike Tomlin as a distant admirer.
“Thought very highly of him,” Tomlin said during his media portion, October 6. “We looked at all of what I would describe as ‘A’ runners, and obviously Williams was and is one of those.”
Tomlin’s running back is second in the league in rookie rushing yards, with only Williams ahead of him. But no running back — veteran or rookie — has been as good as Williams upon contact.
Both Williams and Harris have been impressive. And both figure to factor heavily into their respective game plans, as the Broncos try to avoid two-straight losses, while the Steelers try to get back on track and earn their first home win of the 2021 season.
Williams entered the draft with high regard from reputable ranking publications, as well as a reputation for breaking tackles — and defenders’ spirits. And his young career has proved no different so far.
As the clip above displayed, Williams possesses a rare blend of stoutness, strength, and will — with the last attribute being an unmeasurable. Broncos Country is undoubtedly pining for more touches for the University of North Carolina product.
The only way to beat the Steelers — especially if starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can’t go, due to his concussion — is to continuously lean on the rushing attack. That holds even truer if backup Drew Lock gets the call. Lock has his flaws, for sure, but on play-fakes, Lock was an elite play-action passer in 2020. The efficiency disparity was striking, tweeted Doug Farrar, of USA Today.
Denver needs more bell cow…and that bell cow should be Williams.
Follow Tony Williams on Twitter: @TBone8