ENGLEWOOD — Facing a third and six with under five minutes to go until halftime and trailing the Jaguars 7-3, Broncos running back Javonte Williams did something you may have missed.
He showed growth.
The rookie, who struggled Week 1 against the Giants in pass protection, perfectly picked up a Jaguars blitz, allowing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to deliver downfield for a first down. Thanks to Williams, that drive ended in a touchdown right before the half. He didn't stop there, rushing for 64 yards on 13 carries.
This is purely for @Nate_Tice's benefit: Look at Javonte Williams bring it here in pass pro. pic.twitter.com/idMVNBIBNO— Robert Mays (@robertmays) September 22, 2021
And according to Broncos running back coach Curtis Modkins, that's a rare feat for a 21-year-old to show that kind of learning ability this early in his first season.
"The first game, he waited on it. This game, he went and got it," Modkins told The Gazette. "He's very conscientious and he also knows he wants to be better and he knows he doesn't have all the answers. He's willing to do what it takes and he's willing to be coached. He pays attention. And that may point toward more of the person he is than the player. He's a good person who wants to be better and who wants to be coached."
Through two games, Williams has been as advertised, even if his stats don't always reflect it. He's the work horse and mauler the Broncos were hoping for when they moved up in the second round to draft the North Carolina product.
"You can tell on tape the guy's a football player," Modkins said. "He's fast, he was physical on tape, he was hard to tackle on tape. The run he had in the game, he did it in college, so you could see he was really hard to tackle, he had really good contact balance, he was good in protection in college. He was just a really, really good football player and you could tell by just watching three minutes of tape."
At North Carolina, Williams rushed for 2,297 yards and 29 touchdowns in three seasons — he totaled 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns last season alone. Through two games with the Broncos, in which he's split reps with Melvin Gordon, he's rushed for only 109 yards and zero touchdowns, averaging just over 4 yards per carry.
But while his rushing numbers aren't that high, he's been impressive when given the opportunity. According to Pro Football Focus, he's forced 11 missed tackles, which is the fourth most in the NFL among running backs. He only trails Cleveland's Nick Chubb (14), Minnesota's Dalvin Cook (14) and New England's Damien Harris (12), who each have at least five or more carries than Williams.
"Pinball, bowling ball — those are probably all accurate descriptions," Modkins said when asked how to describe Williams. "I think that says the guy is really hard to tackle. He runs with a good center gravity that allows him to not have a big, huge target. So he's not showing his chest. He runs in a matter that allows him to really handle tacklers. And he's strong enough that some of them will bounce off of him."
Williams isn't one who cares much for the pinball or bowling bowl comparisons. He believes he's an all-round back.
But he also takes pride in running people over, like he did on a 16-yard carry against the Jaguars last Sunday.
Javonte Williams is a BOSS. That’s all. 📺: CBS pic.twitter.com/Xly8rn6kOG— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) September 19, 2021
"Honestly, I think it's just something that comes natural," Williams said. "Me, I'm always fighting for extra yards. It's just a mentality. Another thing that goes into that is I think the defense, they don't really wrap me up. They just kind of grab me or bulldoze me and I just don't go down."
But maybe Williams' greatest trait — greater than being coachable and his ability to break tackles — is something that can't be taught or naturally gifted to him. It's his poise.
Following the Jaguars game, coach Vic Fangio said Williams is as calm as Bridgewater, which is high praise considering Bridgewater might be one of the calmest players in the entire NFL.
Modkins didn't go that far, but did say Williams' ability to stay in the moment and not get too confident or too down on himself throughout a game is something that will go a long way in his career — a career many in Denver believe will be special.
"He is really unfazed," Modkins said. "He has some stuff to get better at and he has a ways to go, but as a young player, he's probably as poised as a player I've had. There's some really tough blitz looks in this league and he might mess it up on Wednesday and Thursday, but when it happens in a game, it's easy for him because he doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low. And I think that's a good trait for a runner because during the course of a game it's up and down for a runner... He's pretty steady and I think that's a natural thing for him."
As Modkins said, the rookie still has a ways to go. Williams himself admitted that, saying he's still adjusting to the speed of the NFL.
But watch Williams play and it's clear his ceiling is high and his trajectory is off the charts. Now, it's just about building on each carry, block and catch made.
"I just want to make the most out of every opportunity when I'm on the field, whether that's running the ball, pass pro, catching — I just try to do my best any chance I get," Williams said. "As the season goes on, I feel like I'm only going to get better."