ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The rookie wall has largely gone the way of the fullback in the NFL, as in something that makes an occasional appearance here and there, but is not really a regular topic of conversation as college seasons have gotten longer and players have gotten better about handling pro football.
But if there was some sort of first-year wall in front of Denver Broncos rookie running back Javonte Williams, it's a good bet Williams' teammates would want to watch him bash through it just to see the football mayhem afterward.
"He's a rookie by classification, but not by play and demeanor and professionalism," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "He doesn't act like a rookie at all. The guy is really good."
The Broncos' draft class of 2021, led by starting cornerback Pat Surtain II in the first round and bookended with linebacker Jonathon Cooper in the seventh, has the opportunity to be one of the franchise's best if it keeps its early momentum. Surtain, Williams, guard Quinn Meinerz (third round), linebacker Baron Browning (third round), safety Caden Sterns (fifth round) and Cooper have all started this season.
And Williams, who the Broncos quickly moved up in the second round to snare last April, has been every bit of the tackle-breaking, double-take-making runner the Broncos hoped. He leads the team in rushing (815 yards), is second in carries (170) and has six total touchdowns (three rushing, three receiving).
Williams spent time in the offseason preparing to contribute in the passing game more as a pro than he did in college and is fourth on the team in catches with 38. That's 12 fewer catches than he had in three combined seasons at North Carolina.
Weekly Javonte Williams highlight.— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 19, 2021
But it's his physicality that stands out. Williams will take a 2-yard run and turn it into a 7-yard run but then somehow make it a 13-yard run, as he plows through multiple defenders and stays on his feet so long that a Broncos offensive lineman will often join the fray to shove him forward.
"Oh, it's awesome," Meinerz said. "He's one of those running backs that's constantly chugging his feet. That's why if I don't get a great block [or] a great fit on whatever I'm doing, just that little extra shove so that way the defender can't get a clean shot on Javonte. He'll bounce right off and keep moving those yards."
The Broncos continue to be offensively challenged overall, with only two games this season in which they've scored more than 19 points against an opponent that currently has a winning record. They've struggled to protect their quarterback when they try to open up the formation to throw, struggled to get the ball to their wide receivers (6.8 catches per game for all of the wide receivers combined over last four) and struggled to finish drives with touchdowns as they're now 21st in the league in the red zone.
But the one thing that has worked, over and over again when the Broncos have committed to it, is Williams and Melvin Gordon III running the ball or catching it out of the backfield. The two have so closely split the workload they have combined for 344 carries through 14 games, but are only four carries apart for the season.
"[Gordon] is cool, Mel is really cool," Williams said. "Coming into the NFL and the way people described it, I thought he was going to be kind of standoffish like, 'You're not going to break into my carries or anything like that.' He's the complete opposite. Anything I mess up on, he's trying to coach me up right then and there. He's trying to show me little things that he did when he was a rookie that helped him be more comfortable with the game."
Williams, with three games remaining against run defenses ranked 19th (Kansas City Chiefs), 25th (Las Vegas Raiders) and 29th (Los Angeles Chargers), also has a chance at the 1,000-yard mark. Phillip Lindsay, with 1,037 yards in 2018, has the last 1,000-yard season for a Broncos rookie running back.
With a quality stretch run Williams could crack the franchise's top five rushing seasons by a rookie. Hall of Famer Terrell Davis has the current fifth-best at 1,117 yards rushing in 1995. Earlier this season, Fangio was asked to compare Williams' style to another back he had been around in his four-decade NFL career.
"He reminds me a little bit of probably the best back I've been with on a team," Fangio said, "I'm not going to say he's there yet, but [Hall of Famer] Edgerrin James. He kind of runs a little bit like Edgerrin, is [as] a complete player as Edgerrin."
Williams has remained mostly nonplussed about the whole thing. He has chosen to keep it fairly simple.
"I've said I just feel like there's 11 people on defense out there," Williams said. "The O-line gets almost everybody, blocks them up and there is one other person for me. I beat that one person, that's a good run. Just keep doing that and try not to go down, that's pretty much it. That's how I look at it."