It’s somewhat remarkable, and ironic, that we are living through a second golden age of running backs in the NFL. The college ranks are producing very talented runners at a remarkable clip, and they are producing early in their NFL careers.
University of North Carolina running back Javonte Williams isn’t the most heralded runner in the upcoming draft, but that could change over the coming months. Williams exploded onto the scene this year with a dominant performance that saw him average nearly 8 yards per carry and pick up 23 total touchdowns.
He is also a hard running player who could be an option if the New York Giants choose to allow Wayne Gallman Jr. exit in free agency.
Games Played: 35
Yards (per carry): 2,297 (6.3 per carry)
Yards (per catch): 539 (10.8 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 33 touchdowns (29 rushing, 4 receiving)
Games Played: 11
Yards (per carry): 1,140 (7.3 per carry)
Yards (per catch): 305 (12.2 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 22 (19 rushing, 3 receiving)
Best: Contact balance, play strength, burst, vision, versatility, pass catching
Worst: Long speed
Projection: A starting running back with scheme diversity
North Carolina running back Javonte Williams is a compact, powerful player with a good blend of agility, explosiveness, and thickness for the position at the NFL level.
Williams primarily lines up next to the quarterback in North Carolina’s shotgun-based spread offense. He is capable of running in a variety of schemes and concepts, executing inside and outside zone runs well. Williams shows a good understanding of his offense’s blocking schemes, with patience behind the line of scrimmage and anticipation of holes and blocks before they develop. He is generally a one-cut runner, with quick feet to transition from lateral movement to running north-south and a very good burst out of his cuts and through the line of scrimmage.
Williams is compactly built, which he uses to lower his center of gravity, cut sharply, and play with excellent contact balance. He is a very hard and physical runner, frequently breaking or bouncing off tackles for significant yards after contact. He has enough burst out of his cuts, or after breaking a tackle, to pick up chunk yardage in the open field.
Williams is a quality contributor in the passing game. He is a “hands” catcher who does a good job of presenting the quarterback with a clear target and framing the ball with his hands. He has also shown very good concentration to haul in passes in contested catch situations down the field. Williams is also a willing and relatively dependable option as a pass protector.
Despite his good burst and frequent chunk plays, Williams lacks truly elite long speed. He can keep separation with most defenders, but faster defenders are able to run him down from behind. He also lacks great short-area agility to string moves together if the defense is able to fill his primary hole. Williams could also stand to improve his technique as a pass protector, as he can occasionally engage with improper leverage and give up pressure.
And while he is a reliable receiver out of the backfield — usually on wheel routes — Williams wasn’t motioned to the slot or wide receiver positions. His ability to run route trees or be a receiver from elsewhere in the offensive formation is currently unknown.
Overall Grade: 8.6 - A fringe first-round player. Has the athletic and mental traits to be a first round pick, but positional value could force a slide into the second round.
Javonte Williams projects as a starting, three-down running back at the NFL level. He is a well-rounded back with relatively few weaknesses. Williams would likely be best in a “spread coast” offense which would create space for him to convert broken tackles into chunk yardage, but he should be able to start and play in any NFL scheme.
Williams might not project as a regular home run threat in the NFL, but his powerful build, contact balance, vision, and burst should make him a consistent producer. His hard running style and understanding of patience and blocking schemes should let him consistently maximize his yardage as a ball carrier. Considering the state of tackling in the NFL, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Williams continue to rack up yards after contact at the next level, and he could be a problem if defenses aren’t able to gang tackle him at the line of scrimmage.
Williams ability as a receiver with soft hands and reliable route running, as well as his willingness as a pass protector, will allow NFL offenses to keep him on the field regardless of down and distance. That being said, teams will want to continue to coach up his pass protection. He is a relatively reliable blocker, but he has the play strength, competitive toughness, and natural leverage to be a legitimately good pass protector with some work.
Williams won’t be the first running back selected in the draft, but he shouldn’t have to wait long into the second day of the draft to hear his name called.