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Power and finesse: The one-two punch of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III
The shared success of the Broncos' running back tandem is about more than just their talent on the field.
By Sam Weaver Jan 07, 2022

Long before they became teammates, Javonte Williams was drawn to Melvin Gordon III's game.

He was fascinated by Gordon's speed, power and overwhelming talent. A 400-yard, four touchdown game against Nebraska in 2014 as a senior at Wisconsin had turned Gordon into a template for how the running back position is played.

For Williams, who had transitioned from linebacker to running back late in his high school career, players like Gordon gave him someone to model his own game after.

"I just liked how he played," Williams says. "I used to watch him and Todd Gurley, 'cause they came out at the same time. … I remember he had like 400 yards in one game in college, and just seeing how big he was and how fast he was, that's just really somebody I looked up to coming out of high school."

After admiring his game from afar, Williams found himself on the same team as Gordon when the Broncos drafted him in April. Since that moment, the Broncos have turned to the pair to lead their offense, and the tandem has produced unlike any other in the league today.

That kind of production was what the Broncos hoped to see when they brought Williams into the fold.

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But before either of them knew just how well they would mesh on the field, they first had to mesh off it.

Initially, Williams was unsure of how the veteran would respond to his arrival, he says, but he ultimately found a friend and mentor in Gordon.

"I didn't expect it at first, because I thought with him being a Pro Bowler and how good he was, I thought he was gonna be more standoffish and not really talk to me," Williams says. "But nah, he was cool as soon as I came in — he welcomed me with open arms. He helped to show me the ropes, and I couldn't ask for a better person to help me come into the league."

According to Gordon, there wasn't much mentoring needed for Williams, who came into the NFL determined and ready to work.

"He's really, really chill," Gordon says. "He's got his head on straight, so there's not too much coaching you have to do off the field with him."

And on the field, Gordon says it all comes down to the little things.

"As a running back he's kinda just naturally gifted, so there's not too much I can tell him," Gordon says. "It's just little details with him — just the details of the game, the little stuff that no one talks about as far as protection and stuff like that. Just little savvy stuff that I teach him.

"He's really a fast learner. Playing running back, it's either you got it or you don't."

Clearly, both Gordon and Williams got it.

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Gordon's success in this league needs little introduction.

Since entering the NFL in 2015, Gordon has become one of the league's most prolific rushers. With tremendous speed, vision, agility and strength, Gordon has tallied the fourth-most rushing yards in that span, and he's one of only eight running backs with a rushing touchdown of 87 yards or more.

But what has separated Gordon from nearly every back in the league is his nose for the end zone. He's the only player who has scored at least nine touchdowns in each of the past six seasons.

"I'm a slasher, good feet, good vision," Gordon says. "I can do both [power and finesse], it depends on what type of game it is. If I feel like I can make you miss to go 70 [yards], then I will. If I feel like I gotta play with a little power to pick up the extra yards, to pick up the 3rd-and-1, then I'll do that too. I just kinda run and play the situation as it is."

That drive — to make any play possible in any circumstance — is also what Williams admires most about Gordon's game, especially now that he's been able to see it up close as a teammate. He points to Gordon's thumb injury earlier this season as an example.

"He messed his thumb up against the Lions and came back, still ready to play," Williams says. "His determination and how hard he goes every day, that's the stuff I really admire about him."

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While their running styles differ, the Broncos' rushing duo has found an explosive balance on the ground. A shared workload in the backfield has allowed both Gordon and Williams to play to their individual strengths.

Williams is often called a power back as the thunder to Gordon's lightning, but he considers himself more balanced than purely a violent runner. His rookie campaign has certainly backed that up, as Williams has also excelled as a receiving threat and contributed as a pass blocker.

"I feel like I'm just versatile," Williams says. "I can make people miss when I need to, and I can run people over when I need to. I can catch out of the backfield, I can pass-block and then I can get those yards that's not there when I need to. Like, if the O-line misses a block or something, I can make somebody miss and still get extra yards after that."

That's where Williams has shined most — in his ability to break tackles and churn out yards after contact. But in his typically understated fashion, Williams shrugs when asked why he's so hard to bring down.

"I don't know, I feel like it just be happening," Williams says. "I just keep going, I just keep running."

His mentor has the same reaction.

"His ability to break tackles is just crazy," Gordon says, shaking his head. "Some of the stuff he does … I don't know how he do that, whether it's his low center of gravity or always churning his legs. He's got a knack for breaking tackles. That's just his thing, and he's gonna be dope, man."

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As they've shared the load for Denver's rushing attack, the two have been reliable workhorses.

Part of that success is thanks to their shared workload, which keeps both Gordon and Williams fresh and keeps opposing defenses guessing.

"I feel like [us splitting carries] keeps defenses on their toes," Williams says. "We're kind of different, but we're not really that different — we both break tackles. Me and Mel, we're both 220-[pounds]-plus, and we've both got the same style. We just do certain things a little different. Like, he can make somebody miss in the hole and I'd rather just bounce it. We just play off each other and keep each other fresh and healthy."

A great running back can wear down an opponent over the course of a game. But a battering ram of Gordon and Williams keeping each other fresh for four quarters is enough to break just about any defense.

"Defenses don't know what to expect," Williams says. "… They're already tired, and then Mel comes in and keeps going and going, and then next thing you know, I come in and they're still just out there trying to catch their breath.

"As the game keeps goin' on, I feel like people don't want to tackle no more. Like, late in the game, I feel like they get tired of tackling me and then they gotta tackle Melvin too. I feel like both of us put together, it just makes people not wanna tackle late in the game, so that's when the big plays come."

The one-two punch of Gordon and Williams has paid off for most of the season, with the duo trading carries in every game but one — a "Sunday Night Football" tilt with division rivals Kansas City where Williams found himself in a starting role as Gordon was sidelined with an injury.

In his first career game as the primary back — something he hadn't experienced as a pro or in college — Williams made nearly 200 yards from scrimmage look easy, racking up 102 yards on the ground and adding 76 yards and a score through the air. But by the end of the game, Williams certainly felt the brunt of shouldering the workload alone.

"I definitely felt it against the Chiefs, I was gettin' tired," Williams says with a laugh. "Because even in college, I've never been the only running back. That was my first time ever."

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Gordon and Williams aren't letting a shared workload divide them, either. Instead of a battle for first, the two running backs have found a rhythm that allows them both to shine.

"We're just two unselfish players, really," Gordon says. "If you had a selfish player, it probably wouldn't work."

Instead, because of their teamwork and respect for one another, their tandem has worked, as each player has made significant contributions to the team. They're the only tandem in the league this year to each rush for at least 800 yards, and they're just the second tandem in franchise history to accomplish that.

"Those guys both bring something totally different to the game," Teddy Bridgewater said in December. "I mean, they're both physical, they both make guys miss but just getting the ball in their hands man, it does something for this offense."

As the season winds down, the two backs have each found major success. Gordon leads the Broncos in rushing and total touchdowns with seven and nine, respectively, while Williams has a team-high 857 rushing yards. Between them, they have racked up 1,665 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns and another 505 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns this season.

But as they see it, that shared success isn't just about their talent on the field. More than that, it's about who they are as people.

"Really, it just comes from being good people on the inside," Williams said. "I feel like if one of us was selfish or something — I feel like selfish people don't get the good things in life. So just being open to whatever the coach says, just doing what you're supposed to do, I feel like in the end, God is just gonna reward you. That's really what it is, us just being good people and God just coming around, giving us what we deserve."

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