Broncos Face Uphill Battle at Running Back

Javonte Williams

Getty Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams.

There is uncertainty almost everywhere you look on the roster for the Denver Broncos.

No position group is without question marks and according to The Athletic’s Larry Holder, the Broncos’ running backs might be the biggest question mark of them all.

“This seems like one of the muddiest groups in the NFL, with nothing certain at all at this point,” Holder wrote. “Javonte Williams never produced enough to stave off competition from Samaje Perine and Jaleel McLaughlin. Williams gained the bulk of the carries in 2023 (217 attempts), but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. Perine was the most effective pass catcher, while McLaughlin averaged 5.2 yards per carry. ”

The Broncos also added a pair of rookie running backs, drafting Notre Dame’s Audric Estime and signing undrafted free agent Blake Watson out of Memphis.

So, while the Broncos have a lot of running backs, it’s not certain if any of them will be any good.

Running Back By Committee Might Work

A closer look at the Broncos’ team rushing stats shows that running back by committee might actually work in 2024. It almost did in 2023.

Denver’s team rushing total of 1,810 yards placed them at 18th out of 32 NFL teams — pretty much the middle of the pack — but finished tied for 28th in the league with only 8 rushing touchdowns.

Right now, Williams and McLaughlin seem like the best bets to get the lion’s share of the carries for the Broncos in 2024. McLaughlin made the Broncos as an undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State in 2023 and was second on the team with 410 rushing yards.

Williams, a second-round pick out of North Carolina in 2021, made the PFWA All-Rookie Team with 1,219 yards of total offense and 7 touchdowns but only played in 4 games in 2022 because of a major knee injury. He bounced back in 2023 with 1,002 yards of total offense (774 rushing, 228 receiving) and 5 touchdowns.

Broncos Haven’t Had 1,000-Yard Rusher since ’19

The Broncos are in a kind of stretch of offensive futility that tells the story of why they haven’t made the playoffs since 2015 — Denver hasn’t had a player with over 1,000 rushing yards or over 1,000 receiving yards since 2019.

Phillip Lindsay was the last Broncos’ running back to cross 1,000 yards rushing after putting up 1,011 rushing yards — the second of back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for him.

Perine has never eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in seven NFL seasons. Estime is coming off a breakout season at Notre Dame in which he rushed for 1,342 yards while setting the school’s single-season record with 18 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged a whopping 6.4 yards per carry.

Estime also led the Irish in rushing with 920 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2022 despite starting just two games.

“If (Estime) can hit the gas with a heavier foot, he’ll continue to break tackles and maximize yardage after contact,” NFL analyst Lance Zierlein wrote in his pre-draft analysis. “He’s a better weapon out of the backfield than he might get credit for being, and he could check into the league as part of a two-headed running attack with the ability to shine near the goal line.”

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