As training camp approaches, it's time to turn our attention toward the season. Ahead of the first open training camp practice, we're examining each of the position groups on the Broncos' roster. 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 watch when practices begin and the preseason gets underway. We continue the series with a look at the Broncos' running back position.
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What we know:
Following an offseason in which the Broncos got bigger and better up front, Denver's running backs should have a chance to make plays.
And for Javonte Williams, that could come sooner than intially expected.
The third-year running back returns after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2022, and Head Coach Sean Payton previously noted he expects the North Carolina product to be ready for the start of training camp.
Earlier in the offseason, General Manager George Paton indicated the team was unsure whether Williams would be ready for the season. So when Williams participated in the offseason program, the step forward in his rehab was a welcome development.
"We were encouraged heading into this time of the season," Payton said in May. "It's good to have him out here."
Williams will look to build off a rookie season in which he carried the ball 203 times for 903 yards and four touchdowns. And while his highly anticipated second season was cut short in Week 4, he could soon remind fans why he was capable of delivering a highlight each time he touched the ball.
Williams, though, isn't the only bruising runner the Broncos feature on their roster. During free agency, the team added veteran running back Samaje Perine, who spent the better part of the last four years with the Bengals.
Perine recorded 394 rushing yards and two touchdowns last season in Cincinnati — and he should pair with Williams to create a physical rushing duo.
Behind Williams and Perine, there may be a little less certainty.
What we need to learn:
Who will round out the Broncos' running back room?
Williams and Perine seem poised to form the Broncos' dual-threat attack, but there may be opportunity behind those two players.
Denver signed Tony Jones Jr. in the second wave of free agency, and the Broncos added Jaleel McLaughlin as a college free agent. Jones' most-productive season came in 2021 as he rushed for 142 yards on 54 carries in 11 games. McLaughlin posted back-to-back seasons at Youngstown State of at least 1,100 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns. He carried the ball 227 times for 1,588 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2022. Tyler Badie also returns, and he made the most of his sole opportunity in 2022. On his first career touch, Badie took a pass 24 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers in Week 18.
Michael Burton, who the Broncos signed as a fullback in free agency, also figures into the backfield equation. If Denver keeps three running backs and Burton, there should be a competition in which several unproven players have a chance to fight for a roster spot.
Player to watch:
The third-year player was back on the field for the offseason program less than eight months after his season ended in Las Vegas, and he'll look to take the next step in his return during training camp. Payton previously indicated that he believed Williams would avoid the Physically Unable to Perform list, and he said at the end of the offseason program that he remains optimistic about Williams' rehab. As Williams aims to take the next step, it will be interesting to see how the Broncos work him in to various drills and if he receives any preseason action. Denver doesn't open the season until Sept. 10, and the Broncos would surely love to have Williams available against the Raiders. His progression between the start of training camp and the regular season will be of great interest.
Previous articles in the series: