After one of the most exhilarating offseasons in Broncos history, the 2022 season is close at hand.
In just a couple of weeks, the Broncos will gather for training camp and begin to prepare for the regular season. The task is simple: Return to the playoffs for the first time since a Super Bowl 50 win — and perhaps challenge for another Lombardi Trophy.
As the Broncos embark on that effort, though, they'll need to answer a series of questions that will help determine whether they can find success in Year 1 of the Russell Wilson era. Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at those questions that span across the roster.
Up next, we'll take a look at the Broncos' running backs.
HOW WILL THE BRONCOS SPLIT CARRIES BETWEEN JAVONTE WILLIAMS AND MELVIN GORDON III?
For much of the Broncos' offseason, it appeared Javonte Williams was set to take the reins.
After a rookie season in which Williams bullied defenders and averaged more broken tackles per carry than any back in the league, the UNC product seemed poised to take over the Broncos' No. 1 running back duties. Melvin Gordon III, who started the bulk of the Broncos' games in 2021 and shared carries with Williams, headed off to free agency — and Williams looked destined for more carries.
When the Broncos re-signed Gordon in late April — just ahead of the NFL Draft — it created a series of questions around the running back position. But it also made the position group better — and likely much stronger than it would have been with Williams and a mid-to-late round draft pick in the rotation.
In 2021, Williams and Gordon formed perhaps the league's best running back duo, as each player rushed for more than 900 yards and combined for 12 rushing touchdowns. Though it's perhaps an overgeneralization, Gordon provided the ability to hit a hole and take off for a long gain, while Williams punished opposing defenders. Gordon bookended his season with long touchdown runs against the Giants and Chiefs, and Williams earned national attention for runs like the one against Baltimore when he carried Marlon Humphrey on his back for 20 yards.
Gordon's return, however beneficial it ends up being for the Broncos, does make things far less clear. Will Williams still ascend to a starting role? Will Gordon hold onto the job that has belonged to him for the past two seasons? And no matter which player emerges as the starter, how will Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett and Running Backs Coach Tyrone Wheatley handle the carries?
Perhaps most interestingly, there's arguments for a slew of options. The Broncos could keep Williams fresh by maintaining the 50-50 split they used in 2021. They could also help him get rolling if they adopt more of a 60-40 or 70-30 balance. There's no guaranteed right answer — unless you're a fantasy football player — which makes the coming weeks so interesting.
Through the offseason program, the Broncos made no declarations about their plans for the running back group, which also features a capable player in Mike Boone. Following Gordon's signing, Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten said "there's not necessarily a [number] one and two right now" and noted the team's plan could vary on a game-by-game basis.
Hackett echoed that sentiment, noting the Broncos will need a "stable of running backs" to get through the season.
There should be hints during training camp and the preseason that help suggest which direction the Broncos are leaning. It's worth watching who gets the first carries, who gets the ball in short-yardage situations and who takes the handoffs in the red zone. The truth, though, is that no one outside of the Broncos' facility knows the complete plan. Gordon's absence during most of voluntary OTAs made it hard to track how the Broncos will handle the duo, and both players have chemistry with Russell Wilson. On Sept. 12 in Seattle, it's anyone's guess how the carries will be divided.
But while the Broncos' running back situation will draw plenty of national interest — in large part because of Williams' fantasy potential — it's worth noting that neither player seems particularly hung up on the details of the shared load. Though Gordon said he wouldn't "lay down" to give Williams the starting job, he also told "Good Morning Football" in late June that the two players were "gonna go crazy" in 2022. Gordon has long maintained that both players are capable of being No. 1 backs, and Williams said just before Gordon's re-signing that he didn't mind sharing carries.
In an offense that is predicated on the run game, both Williams and Gordon will likely be critical pieces. Soon enough, we'll know to exactly what extent that is true.
The Broncos let their personalities shine during the annual portrait shoot. Get a closer look at the running backs' time in the spotlight with these photos.