Javonte Williams Has Denver Broncos Fans’ Expectations a Mile High, but Are the NFL Playoffs out of Reach?

It has been something of a frustrating season for the Denver Broncos. A 3-0 start was immediately followed by a four-game losing streak, which culminated in the trade of their marquee player, Von Miller, at the start of November.

Since that tumultuous period, the team has exchanged wins and losses on a weekly basis, and the most recent loss, on Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, dropped the Broncos to 6-6 and last place in the hotly-contested AFC West.

And yet, the playoffs remain tantalizingly within reach as all three current wild-card teams sit at 7-5, including both the Cincinnati Bengals and division-rival Los Angeles Chargers, both of whom the Broncos will face among their final five opponents. This week, the Broncos draw arguably the easiest assignment in the league: the 1-10-1 Detroit Lions.

There is certainly a groundswell of excitement rising in the Mile High City. Even in defeat on Sunday night, a star was born, one who might be able to carry the Broncos over the finish line into the playoffs.

In his first career start, rookie running back Javonte Williams had Broncos fans all a-Twitter

Javonte Williams runs the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs
Javonte Williams | David Eulitt/Getty Images

The Broncos selected North Carolina running back Javonte Williams in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. It was expected that even with the presence of veteran running back Melvin Gordon ahead of him on the depth chart, Williams was the future of the backfield in Denver, and he showed flashes early in the season. He averaged 13 carries per game in his first three outings and scored a touchdown against the New York Jets in Week 3.

But it was right after the Miller trade that Williams began filling the void left in Broncos fans’ hearts. In the stunning 30-16 victory over the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 9, Williams rushed for 111 yards. He had over 100 total yards in a Week 11 victory over the Chargers.

But it was last Sunday when everything came up Javonte. First, the rookie running back was named the starter against the Chiefs with Gordon nursing a hip injury, then it was revealed that Williams finally had his own Twitter account.

But Williams saved all his talking for the field.

Even though his Broncos went down in a 22-9 defeat, Williams stole the show on Sunday Night Football, rushing 23 times for 102 yards and catching six passes for 76 yards and a late touchdown. It was the first time a Broncos rookie had as many as 100 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards in the same game.

Some are even touting Williams as the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year

Williams’ performance was so impressive that it earned him a nomination by the league for Rookie of the Week for the second straight week. That follows his Rookie of the Week selection from Week 9 after his 111-yard breakout game against the Cowboys.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound back was so hard to bring down Sunday that he had a true “Stat That” moment: According to Next Gen Stats, 92 of his 102 rushing yards came after his first contact with a Chiefs defender.

Williams’ 187 total yards against the Chiefs were the most by any rookie running back this season, and his was the third-highest single-game total of any rookie this year. It was also the best overall performance by a Broncos rookie since Clinton Portis combined for 246 yards against the Arizona Cardinals in 2002.

And that has Broncos fans asking the question: Is Williams the leading contender for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year?

Williams is saying all the right things as the Broncos look to regroup this week


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For his part, Williams is trying to keep it all in perspective.

He remains focused on the team goal of putting together a string of victories in the final five weeks of the regular season. Even after his breakout performance on Sunday night, it remains to be seen what Williams’ role will be this weekend as Gordon returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to reclaim his starting role.

But more than ever, Williams is making it impossible to keep him off the field. The Broncos will need this rookie’s production if their 2021 season is to end on an up note.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference