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Broncos 2023 training camp preview: Running backs and fullback

Taking a look at the Broncos backfield as we near the start of training camp.

AFC Championship - Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos put an emphasis on the run game this offseason when they signed big run-mauling right tackle Mike McGlinchey and mauling guard Ben Powers to big deals in free agency. They also signed run-blocking specialist tight end Chris Manhertz and run-blocking fullback Mike Burton to help in that area as well. Also, with Javonte Williams on the mend, the team brought in the big powerful veteran running back Samaje Perine to solidify their backfield.

So, the Broncos' run game appears to be an emphasis under newly hired head coach Sean Payton and they took steps this offseason to improve on it. Javonte Williams (if healthy) and Samaje Perine appear to be your lead backs heading into training camp while reserves Tony Jones Jr., Tyler Badie, and Jaleel McLaughlin are all fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster.

So, Let’s take a more in-depth look at the Broncos’ running backs and their lone fullback heading into training camp.

Javonte Williams - Running Back - 5-10, 220 pounds

As we know, Williams is coming off a serious knee injury that saw him tear multiple ligaments in his knee and put his future in doubt. Many expected Williams to be sidelined throughout training camp and potentially into the season. However, Williams surprised everyone when he was on the field for the start of OTA’s and minicamp and was participating in these offseason practices.

Head coach Sean Payton also said that there is a “good chance” that Williams will be ready for the start of training camp and that he is optimistic that he will avoid starting camp on the PUP list. Willims himself backed up these comments when he told reporters that “the plan is to be cleared by training camp”.

Everything else from here in out is a bit of an unknown with Williams. Let us assume that he will be cleared for camp since it looks like that will be the case. He will likely be eased into action, but how much? Will he wear a knee brace and for how long? Will he be able to make cuts and prove he has not lost a step due to his injuries? Will he play in the preseason? Will he be good to go for week one? Will he be eased in during the season if good enough to go? These are all questions we will get answers to in the coming weeks.

Hopefully, the positivity continues for Javonte and we see him near or at 100% for week one. He is a talented back who adds an extra dynamic to this offense. He should thrive under Sean Payton, the new offense, the new offensive line, and the emphasis on the run game. With all that said, it’s one step at a time for Williams, and that next step is getting cleared for training camp.

Samaje Perine - Running Back - 5-10, 236 pounds

During free agency, the Broncos gave running back Samaje Perine a two-year deal worth $7.5 million with $3 million of that in total guarantees. He also received a $3 million signing bonus as part of his contract. Now, he joins a Broncos backfield and gives them some veteran depth, insurance for Javonte Williams, and a back that will be a key contributor to the offense this upcoming season.

According to reports, Sean Payton called Perine on the first day of free agency and recruited him to the team. He told Perine how he uses multiple backs and his system, which would give Perine a bigger role with the Broncos than the one he had with the Bengals.

Head Coach Sean Payton spoke to the media about Perine and mentioned his versatility and how he can help the team. Payton says he can play early downs and third downs, is a good receiver, can pass block, and that he is a big, tough, and smart back who is “built to last”.

“If you really watch Perine and study the tape, you see him on early downs, and you see him playing third down. He’s a really good receiver. Obviously, he could block the blitz. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s smart, he’s tough. He’s built to last. That was an important piece for us knowing the injury that we’re dealing with. He was really important”

Perine figures to be a big-time contributor to this offense regardless of where Javonte Williams is with his rehab. I would assume he gets a bigger run early in the season as they work Williams back, but I think he will be the team's third-down back, pass-catching back, and someone who will get plenty of touches throughout the season. Sean Payton likes using multiple backs, so we will see Perine early and often throughout the year.

I am excited to see what he can do in this offense. With that said, he has not had more than 100 carries in a season since his rookie season in 2017. So, he has yet to really prove he can be a high-volume back for a team, but he has the size and toughness to do it.

Tony Jones Jr, - Running Back - 5-11, 224 pounds

The Broncos signed former Saints and Seahawks running back Tony Jones Jr. to a one-year deal during free agency. Now he joins the Broncos backfield and reunites with Sean Payton who he played for in New Orleans.

Jones has 67 career regular-season carries with zero touchdowns and a career yards per carry of 2.7 yards. So, he has not had much success in the league, but he does know Payton’s scheme which could give him a slight edge to begin training camp.

New Orleans Saints v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

His familiarity with Payton could help him make the team, but if he plays like he has throughout his career, I am not sure he will make the roster. He is competing with second-year running back Tyler Badie and undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin. Both of those backs are smaller, more explosive third-down/scat backs who would play a different role than the power game that Jones Jr. brings.

I believe we will see a lot of Tony Jones Jr. during the preseason and how he does there will impact if he makes this team. Ultimately, I do not see him making it and either Badie, McLaughlin, or an outside addition will take his spot, but we shall see.

Tyler Badie - Running Back - 5-8, 197 pounds

Tyler Badies was a sixth-round selection by the Baltimore Ravens during the 2022 NFL Draft. He spent the majority of his rookie season on their practice squad but was signed off the practice squad by the Denver Broncos late in the season. He ended up appearing in the Broncos season finale game vs. the Chargers and he made the most of his very limited touches. He had one carry for 0 yards, but he did catch one pass for 24 yards a touchdown, and displayed his explosiveness and what he can do in the open field.

Unlike the previous three backs who are all 220+ pound bruisers, Badie is a smaller but more explosive player with great speed. Coming out of college, he was known for is speed, toughness, and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. We all know how Payton loves to use his backs in the passing game, so Badie who has good hands and 4.5 speed could be utilized in that role.

With his lack of size and ability to run between the tackles, he projects at best to be a third-down option who can help out in the passing game. With that said, he will likely struggle with pass blocking which could limit how often he does see the field. Badie is on the roster bubble and likely is on the outside looking in at the start of camp, but a strong summer could elevate him up the depth chart.

Jaleel McLaughlin - Running Back - 5-7”, 187 pounds

McLaughlin joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent this offseason after being a highly productive player in college. However, like Badie, he lacks the ideal size to be a full-time back in the NFL and will need to prove he can handle the punishment of the NFL despite the lack of size.

He joins a Broncos backfield looking to compete with Tony Jones Jr. and Tyler Badie for a spot on the 53-man roster, or a spot on the practice squad.

McLaughlin is an intriguing player to watch despite his limited size. He rushed for 8,000 yards in college, has 4.4 speed, and has some good tape. He plays bigger than his size, is explosive, has some good one-cut ability, and can catch passes out of the backfield. He has all the makings of being a player who looks fantastic in the second half of a preseason game and quickly becomes a fan favorite.

I am anxious to see what he can do, but he will be facing a big jump in talent and his lack of size could limit him to just third downs or as a change of pace back. Of the reserve backs, he is the one I am most excited about. I think he may have a real shot of making this team, but at the very least, he seems like a practice squad player.

Michael Burton - Fullback - 6-0, 247 pounds

Fullback Michael Burton signed with the Broncos this past season after spending the last two seasons with their division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. The big run-blocking fullback played one season for Sean Payton in 2021 before having stints with the Commanders, Lions, and Bears.

Burton is currently the only fullback on the roster and is likely locked into a roster spot with this team moving forward.

With the Broncos likely emphasis on the running game, Burton becomes a valuable player for this offense. He is a big lead blocker who will help open up running lanes for the Broncos' backs. As Johnston states in the tweet above, Burton is an old-school fullback who will do the dirty work while also being a good locker room guy.

The fullback is a dying position in the NFL but Sean Payton is an old-school coach who is going to want to run the ball this season. The team signed maulers along the offensive line, a blocking specialist at tight end, and a lead blocker in Burton. So, they’re going to run the ball early and often and Burton is going to be a key piece to their running game.