ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft ended on Thursday, General Manager George Paton sensed that Javonte Williams wouldn't be available for long once the draft resumed.
Before leaving the war room to conduct a press conference, Paton started having conversations with other teams to try to maneuver up from the eighth pick of the second round to get in position to snag the player he would later describe as "one of our favorite players in the draft."
Indeed, as Head Coach Vic Fangio later told DenverBroncos.com’s Phil Milani, the team had few questions about the bruiser of a back from North Carolina.
"He was a guy that was pretty unanimous in the building there," Fangio said. "Coaches, scouts — everybody that took a look at the guy liked him."
The necessary move to secure him took shape quickly on Friday once Day 2 of the draft began, as Denver dealt its second-round pick (No. 40) and fourth-round pick (No. 114) to Atlanta for the 35th-overall pick and a sixth-round selection (No. 218).
"We just think he's a special back," Paton said after the second day of the draft concluded. "A three-down back. Really good on first and second down, he can pass protect, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Just an incredible teammate, incredible off the field. He's a 'gift player.' We call guys 'gift players' that are exceptional off the field as well as on."
A solidly built running back at 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds with great quickness and physicality, Williams consistently provided eye-popping plays. In his final season at UNC, Williams recorded 75 broken tackles on just 157 carries, an NCAA-leading figure according to Pro Football Focus. That rare style perhaps is derived from three seasons playing linebacker in high school.
"You can see the linebacker in his play," Paton said. "If you've watched any clips of him, he's probably the most physical runner in the last couple of years. The thing that makes him unique is the contact balance. He's hard to tackle, whether it's in space or in line or traffic. He has a unique ability to break tackles, and he's elusive in space. So I think you do see the linebacker in him when he runs because he's so physical and he breaks so many tackles."
But with Melvin Gordon III returning in 2021, Williams will not be expected to lead the Broncos' offensive backfield as a rookie.
"He's going to help us — him and Melvin and [Mike] Boone," Paton said. "I feel like you need two or three backs in this league to have success, and he's going to bring that to the table."
Williams already has a wealth of experience sharing the load as part of a talented backfield, as he formed half of one of college football's best rushing tandems in recent memory alongside Michael Carter. Over the past two seasons in Chapel Hill, those two split carries almost evenly to great success; the two each eclipsed 1,000 yards during the 2020 season and very nearly did so in 2019.
In Williams' first NFL season, he probably won't see that same 50-50 split as he works behind Gordon, who racked up 986 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in 15 games (10 starts) in 2020 for the Broncos. Instead, it will likely be a more complementary role.
For the rookie's part, Williams is just fine with that. In his video conference call with Denver media on Friday, he spoke of learning from Gordon and the other running backs and competing with them.
"I have been watching Melvin Gordon since he was at Wisconsin," Williams said. "I have always been a fan of his, so coming in and picking stuff from his game will be a huge start for me."
Looking ahead to the season, the Broncos will work to find the right chemistry in working each running back into the offense. Those efforts in 2020 with Gordon and Phillip Lindsay faced some hurdles because of injuries and illness, as Head Coach Vic Fangio said.
"Hopefully this year with our three backs — Boone being one of them, who we really like that we signed in free agency — and we'll get a nice flow," Fangio said, "and get a good understanding and a good philosophy and a system which can change from week to week to utilize all three of them."
From a skill-set analysis, the three backs should mesh well and add specific bonuses to the offense when they see their opportunities, Paton said.
"I think they're different backs, and so I do think they'll complement each other well," Paton said. "All three of them are different and they all bring something different to the table. So I think it's a really good mix. I like having multiple backs, and I think we've accomplished that."