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State of the Broncos roster: Running back stable could use an upgrade

For the second installment of our State of the Broncos series, we take a closer look at the running back position.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

During their 2023 season, the Denver Broncos struggled in a handful of ways on the offensive side of the ball. The franchise most certainly lacked consistency in the passing game, but their running game wasn’t very effective either. That will have to change in 2024 if they want to improve and have a shot at playoff contention.

In review, the Broncos were middle of the pack league-wide with 451 rushing attempts and 1,810 total rushing yards. However, their 4 yards per carry average was tied for ninth worst in the NFL. In fact, they only had eight rushing= touchdowns the entire year and the only teams who had less were the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Jets.

Additionally, the Broncos didn’t have a single run of over 40-yards all season long and only had 9 runs of 20-yards or more the entire season. The explosive plays just weren’t there, which is a surprise considering that the Broncos were graded out as a Top 10 run blocking team in the National Football League.

With all that in mind, the second installment of our State of the Broncos roster series will focus on running back room and what the franchise can do to get better at the position for the coming season.

Javonte Williams

Contract Status for 2024: Final Year of Rookie Contract
Age: 23
2023 Statistics: 217 rushes for 773 yards, 3.6 yard per carry average, 3 touchdowns. 47 catches on 58 targets, 228 receiving yards, 4.9 yards per reception, 2 receiving touchdowns.

When the Broncos moved up for Javonte Williams in the 2021 NFL Draft, I felt the team made a good move and were selecting a player who had the ability to be a Top 5 running back in the league.

He impressed in his rookie campaign, but his sophomore season ended early after suffering a catastrophic injury in the second game of the 2022 season. The fact Williams was even ready to play on opening day in 2023 was a football miracle. He amassed over 1,000 all-purpose yards, but didn’t have a whole lot of flash plays like we witnessed in his rookie season. I felt there were a lot of missed opportunities hitting the wrong lane and a lot of yards left on the field.

Perhaps some of that can be chalked up to recovering from injury, but his vision was a critique many draft analysts had studying Javonte’s collegiate tape at the University of North Carolina. I’m hoping to see demonstrable improvement in that area next season and hope that he can have the best year of his career.

All things considered; Williams certainly isn’t jeopardy of losing a roster spot in 2024. Though whether or not he sticks around beyond his rookie deal is to be determined.

Samaje Perine

Contract Status for 2024: Final Year of Two-Year Contract
Age: 28
2023 Statistics: 53 carries for 237 yards, 4.5 yard per carry average, 1 rushing touchdown. 50 catches on 56 targets, 455 receiving yards, 9.1 yards per reception.

Samaje Perine proved to be a quality free agent addition for the Broncos last offseason. He was the Broncos’ best receiving threat out of the backfield and averaged over 9-yards per touch as a receiver. I also felt he looked when asked to run despite the limited opportunities. Though his total all-purpose yardage is several hundred less than Williams’, on a snap-by-snap basis—Perine was more consistent with the touches that came his way.

He is currently under contract for next season, but some have floated the idea he could be a potential cap cut. He counts for $4.5 million against the cap in ‘24 and a release would save the Broncos $3 million. That isn’t a large sum of money, but the team is over the cap and some tough decisions will need to be made. I’m just not sure that is the wisest decision considering he appeared to be the most effective back the Broncos had in ‘23.

Jaleel McLaughlin

Contract Status for 2024: Under Contract through 2025
Age: 23
2023 Statistics: 76 carries for 410 yards, 5.4 yard per carry average, 1 rushing touchdown. 31 receptions on 36 targets for 160 yards, 5.1 yards per reception, 2 receiving touchdowns.

The Broncos franchise has a storied history of finding gems in undrafted free agency and getting quality production from running backs who come out of absolutely nowhere. Rookie Jaleel McLaughlin was no exception and showcased his playmaking ability early on as a pro. He amassed nearly 600 all-purpose yards and appeared to be the Broncos’ most dynamic runner sporting the best speed and agility of the bunch.

McLaughlin’s best football is still ahead of him, but he needs to add strength and be more consistent in pass protection to earn more reps. If he can do that, he should be in for an expanded role in 2024. If the Broncos were to move on from the aforementioned Perine that would certainly give him an opportunity to do so as well.

Tyler Badie

Contract Status for 2024: Signed Future/Reserve Deal
Age: 23
2023 Statistics: Practice Squad Only

After seeing playing time in the final game of the Broncos’ 2022 campaign, Badie was a practice squad only player for the Broncos in 2023. However, he was brought back on a future/reserve deal shortly after the season ended. Badie was a quality collegiate player during his time at Mizzou but hasn’t been able to make his mark in the National Football League quite yet. I wouldn’t count on him being a difference maker or being a key component of Denver’s rushing attack next season.

While not a running back, fullback Michael Burton needs to be mentioned too. He played a lot of snaps on special teams for the Broncos and did a good job as a lead blocker in heavier formations. He is a free agent though I wouldn’t be surprised if the team brought him back.

Overall, I think the Broncos have a decent stable of backs. That being said, I think a lot of their skillsets overlap and the franchise is in a situation where they have a bunch of jack of all trade's guys, but a master of none. I’m not sure Denver would spend on acquiring one in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them use a Day 3 pick in the draft on someone that Sean Payton would be a good fit for the team over the next four seasons.

After all, McLaughlin will be the only player slated to be on the roster at the end of next season. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I think we will see them draft someone come April.