As the 2021 offseason winds down and training camp approaches, we're turning our attention toward the season. Over the following few weeks, we'll take a look at each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster before finishing our training camp preview series with a look at some of the top questions facing the team. In our look at each position, we'll fill you in on what we know about the group and what we hope to find out during training camp. We'll also identify a player to keep an eye on when practices and the preseason get underway shortly.
We continue the series with a look at the running back competition.
What we know:
The Broncos' hopes for a two-pronged attack in 2020 never truly materialized, as former running back Phillip Lindsay struggled with injuries that kept him and Melvin Gordon III from sharing the field for much of the season. This offseason, General Manager George Paton went to work to ensure the team's running back room would be more of a strength in 2021.
The Broncos added Mike Boone in free agency, and the former Viking should contribute both as a change-of-pace back and a special teams stalwart. Then, a month later, Paton and the Broncos made a big move as they traded up in the second round for North Carolina's Javonte Williams. The big-bodied rookie set a single-season touchdown record in college and should be an instant contributor. Both players will join Gordon — a two-time Pro Bowler — in the rotation. A season ago, he nearly hit the 1,000-yard mark for just the second time in his career, and he posted 10 total touchdowns to lead the team in scores. Gordon has now scored at least eight rushing touchdowns in each of his last five seasons.
As we prepare for training camp, here's a glimpse back at the offseason program with a look just at the running backs and fullbacks.
What we need to learn:
How will the rotation work?
Both Paton and Head Coach Vic Fangio have spoke extensively about the need for more than one running back in order to have a successful rushing attack.
"Well I think there's enough work to be had for everybody if everybody proves they're worthy," Fangio said at the end of the offseason program. "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. Obviously Melvin is an established back in this league, played good for us last year, and we like him. We obviously [we] like Williams and we like Boone. So you never have enough backs, and I'm confident that there will be enough work for all of them."
It's still unclear, though, what role the team imagines for Williams and Boone. Both should be capable enough in pass-blocking and pass-catching to be options on all three downs, but the coaching staff's plan to split up snaps will be intriguing to watch. Depending on how much work the coaching staff wants to give Gordon in the preseason, we may not know for sure what the rotation looks like until Week 1 against the Giants.
One other item to monitor is whether the Broncos carry a fourth running back — and if that player fits the fullback mold. Andrew Beck — a hybrid fullback/tight end — and undrafted rookie Adam Prentice will likely be the options at fullback, while former third-round pick Royce Freeman will aim to prove he still deserves a roster spot.
Player to watch:
At 5-foot-10, 212 pounds, Williams bullied defenders and made a living breaking tackles while at UNC. Can he do the same thing at the NFL level?
The Broncos are certainly betting that he can. Exclusive footage from the team's docuseries — Behind the Broncos: No Shortcuts — revealed that Denver had Williams as the top running back on the board, ahead of Najee Harris and Travis Etienne. He seems to have a pro-ready frame and could make a big contribution in Year 1.
While first-round pick Pat Surtain II already has impressed his teammates, it's possible Williams could be the rookie who stuffs the stat sheet. He'll get to show that ability when training camp arrives.
"I feel like with the pads on, that's when I'm at my best," Williams said in June.