Good morning, Broncos Country.
We are all excited for the upcoming season and hope the Denver Broncos finally turn things around and get back to their winning ways. But sometimes it’s fun to reflect on the past and think about the team from a historical perspective. I’m thinking about doing a weekly installment looking at players, games, or parts of the team history that are worth remembering.
For today’s installment of Horse Tracks, I’d like to bring up how underrated and underappreciated former linebacker D.J. Williams was. You all remember D.J., right? If not, and some of the young fans reading might not, let’s dial back the clocks over a decade and a half and talk about the former University of Miami star.
The Denver Broncos had just dealt Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins for Champ Bailey and a second-round pick. I was just a young kid, but I felt Mike Shanahan would have been highly interested in Oregon State standout Steven Jackson. A top-tier running back in Shanahan’s system could have done a lot of work, but the Broncos went another direction.
Instead, they used first-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft on star Miami Hurricanes linebacker D.J. Williams. He was regarded as one of the most athletic linebackers to ever come out of the draft and some believed he would become better than teammate Jonathan Vilma, who was drafted a few picks earlier by the New York Jets.
(For whatever it’s worth, the additional pick acquired alongside Champ Bailey went toward Tatum Bell out of Oklahoma State.)
Williams spent his first season at weakside linebacker in the Broncos’ 2004 defense, excelled, and made an immediate positive impact for the squad. His 114 tackles and two sacks had him ranked third on the Defensive Rookie of the Year lists, an honor that was eventually won by you guessed it, former Hurricane teammate Jonathan Vilma.
Over the course of his career, he played for numerous head coaches (Mike Shanahan, Josh McDaniels, John Fox) and various defensive coordinators. He was moved all around the linebacker core playing weakside, strongside, and both inside positions in 3-4 alignments. He did everything that was asked of him and was consistent and reliable player for the nine years he spent in the Mile High City.
During his time in Denver, he appeared in 125 games with 115 starts. He registered 899 tackles, 75 of them for loss, and 20.5 sacks. He also deflected 37 passes, forced 13 fumbles, and recovered 9 of them. That’s pretty great production. In fact, it’s good enough to where he deserves consideration as one of the Top 5 linebackers (traditional, non-edge) in team history.
We will never know due to circumstances, but I feel he could have been a perennial Pro-Bowl and All-Pro talent had he had the opportunity to stick in one position and hit cruise control. At any rate, he was a very good player who gave it everything he had when wearing the orange and blue. It’s been a while since the Broncos have reliably had one of those players whose versatility and tenacity where evident each time they stepped on the field.
A big Mile High salute to Williams for his efforts. I’m not sure what he is up to now, but if you end up reading this, thanks for all you did for the Broncos!
And to those of you reading, thanks for doing so. Feel free to sound off on how you felt about Williams’ career in the comment section. If a certain highlight or memory comes to mind, don’t be afraid to drop that either.
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