Though Javonte Williams was not the first running back taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, or the second, he may just end up being the best of his class.
He may not have had the production of Najee Harris or Travis Etienne, but the plays he put on tape with would-be tacklers bowled over show a unique skill set.
As an AFC running backs coach told ESPN’s Jeff Legwold, Williams is a "little bit of mayhem."
What makes Williams so dangerous is his contact balance, which gives him "a unique ability to break tackles," as General Manager George Paton said after the draft.
Broncos fans in need of an example need look no further than Williams' 236-yard, three-touchdown outing against Miami last year. He found holes in the Hurricanes' defense at will, was quick enough to bounce runs outside when necessary and strong enough to break through tackles or absorb them.
"I don't know if I've been around a more well-rounded back," North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo told The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider. "He can block; he can run inside, can run outside. He can run over you or go by you. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. And then you add it to the fact that he's as high character a kid as I've ever coached. We've had some really, really good ones now. But if he married my daughter, I'd be elated. He's that kind of kid."
It's remarkable too that Williams hasn't been doing this for all that long. He began playing running back only as a high school senior after transitioning from linebacker.
Kosmider tracks this development in Williams' path to the pros; he only received an offer to play at UNC after rushing for 207 yards in the 2A state championship game at Chapel Hill's Kenan Memorial Stadium. In college, Williams split carries with fellow 2021 draftee Michael Carter, which makes Williams an outlier among the top three running backs taken in the draft. His 336 carries are nearly half of Harris' number (638) and less than half of Etienne's (686).
"It's basically like he's a (college) freshman," Williams' high school coach told Kosmider. "He's just getting started."
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Williams isn't just a threat with the ball in his hands, either. Some defenders already know his physicality lends well to pass protection, and more have seen him dart downfield as a receiver. "We didn't just throw to him on swings and short stuff," Longo told The Gazette’s George Stoia. "We hit him down the field, over the middle and out on the perimeter. He's got some good hands as a running back. He's a talented receiver out of the backfield."