Javonte Williams made the unlikely happen even before the Denver Broncos won five in a row. After his season-ending injury in 2022, fans didn’t think they’d see him play this season, let alone in Week 1. Thankfully, he defied the odds, as he has played an enormous role in their current five-game win streak. This Sunday, all eyes will be on Williams as he’ll be the key to beating the Houston Texans in what is arguably the Broncos’ biggest game since 2016.

Small Town Superstar

Williams grew up in Wallace, NC, a cozy town boasting a population of just 3,000. The love affair with football began at five when he started playing flag football. His mother, Shekemia, often found herself arguing with other parents, as Williams had an affinity for tackling.

His football career continued at Wallace-Rose Hill High School, where he helped lead the football team to four straight state titles. Though he played linebacker in his first three seasons, he switched to running back in his final year. His coach, Kevin Motsinger, believed he’d find more long-term success at that position. As a senior, Williams rushed for an impressive 2,271 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. 

Graduating as the class valedictorian with a stellar 4.6 GPA, he received offers from Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. He ultimately committed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a full-ride scholarship. 

With an eagerness for academic advancement, Williams enrolled at UNC a semester ahead of schedule. He took the field as a freshman, appearing in all 11 games with 43 carries for 224 yards and five touchdowns. The following year, Williams got his start, and finished with 165 carries for 937 yards and five touchdowns. 

Year 3 was a huge breakout year for Williams. Demonstrating his prowess, he carried the ball 157 times, securing 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns. Williams also added 75 avoided tackles and 4.59 yards after contact. This solidified him as one of the statistically best collegiate running backs. 

He was voted as the team’s offensive MVP and won the Maxwell Award, an accolade presented to the best player in college football.

Williams decided to capitalize on his impressive season by foregoing his senior year and declaring for the draft.

Breaking Into the NFL

Leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, Pro Football Focus named Williams the top collegiate athlete in the country. His 95.9 rushing grade was the highest PFF had ever given a running back.

The Denver Broncos selected Williams in the second round as the 35th overall pick. Then, newly appointed general manager George Paton was so high on Williams that he traded up five spots to grab him.

In his rookie season, Williams landed as the team’s No.2 running back behind Melvin Gordon. 

Williams picked up 903 rushing yards on 203 carries with four touchdowns, two fumbles, and 63 missed tackles forced. His missed tackles were the second most in the NFL. He trailed only behind Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, who had 66 missed tackles but also 129 more carries.  

At the start of the 2022 season, Williams was named the starter. However, his season was cut short with a knee injury in Week 4. Subsequent diagnoses revealed that he suffered tears to the ACL, LCL, and posterolateral corner. Williams was told it could take over a year for him to fully recover.

Williams defied the odds, though, by not just returning for the 2023 training camp but remarkably being ready for action by Week 1—a feat nothing short of miraculous.

According to PFF, the Broncos have a 64% chance to make the playoffs if they beat the Texans on Sunday. If they lose, it plummets to 21%.

The key to winning the game will be keeping the ball out of CJ Stroud’s hands as much as possible. Denver’s recent success has been largely due to their ability to control the time of possession by effectively running the ball. That will need to continue this weekend. 

Williams has proven to be a pivotal factor in the Broncos’ success. Since 2021, they are 10-3 when he has logged a minimum of 14 rushing attempts per game. The significance of Sunday’s result is unmistakably intertwined with Williams’ performance.