Like just about everything that took place with the Denver Broncos offense this past season, the running back tandem of second-year back Javonte Williams and veteran Melvin Gordon, expected to be one of the more formidable duos in the league, fell flat on its face.
Williams, coming off a stellar rookie campaign in which he finished just shy of 1,000 yards rushing, started the season off at least better than the rest of his offensive teammates, but four games into the season would be lost for the season due to a devastating knee injury.
Gordon, of course, had a nasty habit of dipping the ball in movie theater butter before every series, but even when he held onto the ball, he wasn’t exactly moving the sticks. He would eventually be cut after 10 games and sign with the Chiefs practice squad, where he “earned” a Super Bowl ring.
The story all season and offseason is how Sean Payton needs to fix Russell Wilson, an obvious truth, but the run game should be discussed in the same manner. Payton always had a solid run game in New Orleans with guys like Alvin Kamara, Mark Clayton, and Latavius Murray helping carry the load with Drew Brees. Now, the question becomes, how will he structure the backfield in Denver?
There is simply no way the Broncos can enter the 2023 season relying on Williams to be the primary back (and sorry, but no one should be expecting anything much out of Chase Edmonds). George Paton told reporters at the NFL combine this week that he expects the former North Carolina Tar Heel to be ready to play week one. Even if that is the case, a knee injury like the one he suffered offers no guarantees he will be the same bulldozing back he was in his rookie season.
This is why it is fortunate for the Broncos that the free agent running back class will be one of the best in years. The unfortunate thing is that many names are going to cost quite the pretty penny.
Given that the team doesn’t pick until round three along with the fact that running back is just one of the team’s weak spots makes the odds of finding a hidden gem or top-tier back who slid down for whatever reason less than likely.
The other option? Get out the checkbook and go for the sure thing.
The team made the decision recently to allow standout defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones test the open market in free agency rather than sign him to a lucrative deal or even franchise him. This seems to indicate the team would like to spend its cap elsewhere.
Just a few of the names out there who would (or should) immediately bolster the backfield and give Williams the cushion he requires include Miles Sanders, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Jamaal Williams, Kareem Hunt, Devin Singletary, Alexander Mattison, and Tony Pollard.
That is a lot of talent and productivity to be entering at the same time, and almost all of them will be able to name their price.
There is no doubt the Broncos’ offense needs a facelift like they just stared into the Ark of the Covenant, and while it starts with the QB, the next two spots are the offensive line and backfield.
The running back position does not carry the same value as it did in the 1990s, as we’ve seen with so many teams going with two-back systems and so few teams drafting running backs in the first or second round. And the run game can only be at its peak if the offensive line does its part. Spending big on a guy who will just run into a brick wall harder than another guy is still going to struggle to move the sticks.
However, the New Orleans Saints offensive line was a disaster in the pre-Payton years, and when he got to the Big Easy, the unit became one of the league’s best. If he could make a similar turnaround in Denver, the offense could be one where the backs could feast.
The team will undoubtedly spend money on the offensive line, so it shouldn’t be an either/or situation, but just how much the Broncos will be willing to spend at each spot will be something to monitor this offseason.
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