Now I know what the first reaction to this article is going to be. Even writing the title felt a little bit clickbait-y to me. However, I say this with all confidence:
There’s a legitimate case to make for Javonte Williams being the Offensive Rookie of the Year if he keeps up this pace.
I didn’t think I would write that sentence a couple of months ago. After the game against Baltimore, it felt like that would perfectly summarize his season: Big runs through contact balance and some highlight-reel plays, but more self-inflicted errors that drop his consistency. And for the first few weeks, that held true. Before the Dallas game, he was sitting at a bottom-5 success rate on runs at 42%. However, since that mark, that number has seen a slight uptick to 46%, tied with Green Bay’s Aaron Jones.
As a whole, the Broncos’ running game has seen a boost in the last few weeks with Javonte Williams earning more of a role. From Weeks 1-8, the Broncos posted a rushing success rate of 37.4%, which was 25th in the NFL. From Weeks 9-13, that number has increased to 44.6%, good for fifth-highest over that span, behind Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Kansas City. Their EPA/rush also increased, going from 19th to 15th.
Now, there is some context that does need to be considered. Dallas, Philadelphia, Los Angeles (Chargers), nor Kansas City boast above-average run defenses (PHI is highest in Rush DVOA at 16th). Melvin Gordon has also played a factor into these numbers as well, as he’s been a pretty steady and consistent as a runner.
However, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of Javonte Williams in recent weeks, most notably in his performance against the Chiefs. He received all but 4 touches in the RB room, and Denver had its highest success-rate on the season at 53.6%. In the previous six weeks, the Chiefs were 10th in rushing success rate allowed. Williams’s performance dropped them to 19th!
His film has steadily gotten better as well. Where he used to consistently struggle setting up blocks and cutting back, it’s improved some with more experience.
These little 5-6 yard runs are nicer to see on Javonte's film than some of his highlight reel ones. pic.twitter.com/snlhrx75ft— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) December 8, 2021
Williams hasn’t been perfect, as there are instances where his still-developing vision will pop up and leave a run with more meat on the bone. However, he’s only been playing RB for four years. Melvin Gordon has been playing in the NFL longer than Williams has been playing the position. Naturally, Williams needs more time.
The statistical accolades and ever-increasing importance to the Denver offense are adding more legitimacy to Javonte’s Offensive Rookie of the Year case.
Through 12 games vs other OROY RBs,
- Javonte Williams: 670 rushing yards on 140 carries (4.79 YPC), 269 receiving yards on 33 catches (8.15 YPR). 46% success rate. 37 1st downs, 1 start.
- Saquon Barkley: 954 rushing yards on 195 carries (4.89 YPC), 602 receiving yards on 74 catches (8.13 YPR). 41% success rate. 40 1st downs, 12 starts.
- Alvin Kamara: 606 rushing yards on 86 carries (7.05 YPC), 614 receiving yards on 59 catches (10.40 YPR). 53% success rate. 3 starts.
- Todd Gurley: 1,023 rushing yards on 210 carries (4.87 YPC), 181 receiving yards on 20 catches (9.05 YPR). 43% success rate. 11 starts.
- Eddie Lacy: 887 rushing yards on 227 carries (3.90 YPC), 205 receiving yards on 27 catches (7.5 YPR). 46% success rate. 12 starts.
He’s producing at a pretty similar rate (except for Kamara) to other OROY RBs, with a single start to his name and barely over 50% of the snaps. Barkley played an incredible 83% of snaps as a rookie.
Javonte Williams is tied for 4th in most runs of 20+ yards. He has been nominated three times for rookie of the week, winning it in week 9 and probably will win it for his week 13 game against KC. He has the highest rate of missed tackles forced at 34%, per PFF. Nick Chubb led the NFL last year at 31%.
RB ranks in yards after contact and missed tackles forced per carry (PFF, min 60 carries)— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 7, 2021
-Further up better at forcing missed tackles, further right more yards after contact
-Did 60 carries to show how good all 3 Browns RBs have been
-Holy hell Javonte Williams
-Pollard is good pic.twitter.com/IqSLsH54A8
Williams is already setting records. Javonte Williams is the first rookie in Broncos franchise history to have over 100 rush yards and more than 75 receiving yards in a single game. Williams’ 178 total yards are the most by a Broncos rookie since running back Clinton Portis in 2002 (who won OROY that year). He needs just 62 yards to break 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his 13th game.
The case is starting to build, and the momentum shouldn’t stop moving forward. The Broncos have to play the Lions and Bengals and then another game against the Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs each. While the Bengals will be tough sledding, the other defenses are bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed. Williams should also get plenty of work as a receiver in these games, considering all but the Chargers have had issues against pass-catching backs this season.
This is all moot if the team continues to play Melvin Gordon at the rate they are, but I just don’t see how they can go back to having Gordon as the RB1 moving forward. He’s clearly getting better with more carries, and his ability to break tackles has been a boon with an offensive line that has struggled to generate a ton of push and win at the line of scrimmage.
I don’t want to have this come across as an otherworldly hype-piece. I’m not going to call him the best back in the league or in that elite tier of backs like Nick Chubb or Derrick Henry just yet. For Offensive Rookie of the Year, however? Why not? Not only is there virtually no one out there who looks like a lock for it right now, but he’s been building up more and more steam and is on a pretty similar statistical output for it vs other OROY RBs in recent years. He gets a slew of easy defenses to end the season that should help him catch up.
At the very least, he’s begun to throw his hat in the ring for consideration. That should be a good sign for the Broncos and GM George Paton moving forward.