Denver Broncos still looking for running back depth behind Javonte Williams

Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams each carried the ball 203 times last season for the Broncos. Jack Dempsey/AP Photo

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett has made no secret about what the team's offense will include in 2022: anything and everything quarterback Russell Wilson would like.

Hackett has also made no secret he wants, and has predicted, a healthy dose of downfield throws in the passing game.

Thing is, Hackett, Wilson, general manager George Paton, offensive coordinator Justin Outten and most anyone who saw more than six plays of Broncos football last season are just as quick to say Javonte Williams has got to be involved -- a lot -- no matter how often the Broncos throw the ball to other people.

As Wilson put it last month after reviewing Broncos games from last season: "And then to watching [Williams] not get tackled. It's always good when a running back doesn't get tackled. So that was fun."

"Javonte is ready for whatever role he has," Paton said at the scouting combine. "We think he is a good young player with a really, really bright future. He's going to fit whatever we do on offense."

But no matter how big, strong and brimming with potential Williams is, the Broncos still want to add depth at the position. The initial rush of free agency has passed with Williams, Mike Boone and Damerea Crockett as the only running backs on the roster.

Boone arrived in free agency last year with high hopes in tow before injuring a thigh in training camp and having a stint on COVID-19 reserve list in December. He finished the season with just four carries. Crockett played in 12 games as he bounced between the roster and the practice squad on the way to only three carries.

The Broncos may believe Boone can be far more involved this year than last, but will need help even if Williams moves toward being a 250-carry back rather than the 203-carry back he was as a rookie.

"I think with any running back, you always want to have as many as you can, you want a big stable," Hackett said at the owners' meetings. "You want to have a guy that you can feed and make sure he gets a lot. [Williams is] still a young player, and he's still learning. You want to make sure you can split it as much as you can ... a lot of the places that I've been, there's always been kind of two guys because you always want to try to split the load as much as you can. At the same time, he's a great player. We'll just have to see how the whole thing goes."

Last season Williams and Melvin Gordon III had the ultimate 50-50 split -- both finished with 203 carries as Gordon had 918 yards rushing to lead the team compared to Williams' 903. Gordon is still unsigned in free agency and Paton said he has continued to stay in contact with Gordon's representatives in recent weeks to keep the option open to bring the soon-to-be 29-year-old back on what would almost certainly be a short-term deal.

Gordon may be looking for a bigger workload, though. He said as last season drew to a close and publicly this offseason that he would prefer a situation where he isn't splitting carries as much as he did with Williams last season. And even Gordon has said Williams is easily ready for more in an offense as well.

There are plenty of experienced players still available for potential one-year deals: Gordon, Darrel Williams, David Johnson, Sony Michel and former Broncos draft pick Devontae Booker. Leonard Fournette has received the only three-year deal among running backs who have signed.

The Broncos, who do not have a first-round pick in next month's draft after the trade for Wilson, still have five of their eight draft picks within the first 116 picks. That could be prime real estate to add a running back.

But Williams is clearly out front in the plan no matter what happens next.

As quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said of Williams last season, "you can see it every time, you hand him the ball and it just does something for your offense. Every single time."