The Denver Broncos rushing attack has to be better this upcoming season if the team hopes to establish a sustainable way to win games going forward. Can Javonte Williams have a bounceback season after his remarkable return from injury last year?

Denver Broncos rushing attack has to become their identity offensively

In Sean Payton’s first season as Denver’s head coach, much of the offseason conversation about the team’s offense surrounded the run game and how it would be the foundation for how the team finds success and sustainability.

Despite those conversations and emphasis, the rushing attack wasn’t good enough last year. With Javonte Williams coming off of a major knee injury and surgery, expectations for him were tempered.

During the 2023 NFL Free Agency period, Denver added Samaje Perine as a veteran presence who could help provide a one-two punch and take pressure off of Williams.

The vision was in the right place, but the outcome didn’t match the expectations. Denver finished 15th in rushing offense last season in terms of rushing yards total but finished with the fourth-fewest rushing touchdowns on the year.

While it didn’t work out last year, all signs point to the rushing attack being the offense’s foundation this season. If Bo Nix starts for the Broncos at quarterback, Payton himself alluded to a strong rushing attack being an ally to the QB position.

“The two biggest allies to that I believe strongly are good defensive play and a running game,” Payton said after the team drafted Nix. “In other words, if you are a quarterback and you’re having trouble running the ball—or let’s get worse—if you’re a quarterback and you’re having trouble running the ball or stopping people, your job description becomes very difficult. When you’re playing good defense and you have a running game, your job description is a little bit more palatable.”

Can Javonte Williams bounce back?

Javonte Williams is the primary bell-cow for Denver’s rushing attack and he’s hopeful he’ll have a bounceback season this year, where he’s entering OTAs and training camp fully healthy and entirely fresh.

In 2023, Williams experienced his lowest yards per carry output of his career, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Williams also saw stacked boxes of eight or more defenders on 16.59% of his rushing attempts, accruing -83 RYOE, which is rush yards over expected.

Much of Denver’s rushing struggles or inconsistencies stemmed from opposing defenses selling out to stop the run in an attempt to force the Broncos to pass the football more. On top of that, Denver had to abandon the run game various times last season due to trailing by two or more scores.

For Williams, much of last season was him trying to regain his confidence to do some of the same things he did in his first two seasons, but it was evident at times that there was some hesitancy in trusting a hole to open up, or sometimes he missed it.

2024 should be a different story for him, and we should see him return to his previous form, especially in a contract year.

How will Broncos backfield work in 2024?

Outside of Williams, the Broncos backfield will likely face stiff competition that should play out well into the NFL Preseason.

Samaje Perine, Jaleel McLaughlin, Tyler Badie, Audric Estime, and undrafted rookie free agent Blake Watson will all likely compete for the RB2 and RB3 spot on the 53-man roster.

The ability to play special teams will factor into the equation heavily, as will performance in the backfield during camp and preseason.

“All these guys, they’re all competing for different roles, spots, roster,” Payton said regarding the RB position. “But there are two guys who are under contract right now that we added. I think that we never put a cap on what they’re competing for. I want to see it, and then we’ll go by what we see. That was the case with [RB] Jaleel [McLaughlin] a year ago. He sat here as an undrafted free agent that was going through the workouts, and then pretty soon you began to see it. So who knows what we’re going to get? They are two different players, the two backs that are here that are rookies. Two different types of runners, but we’ll see where it goes.”

When looking at the big-picture view for the RB position, Perine looks like the odd-man out on paper. Financially, Perine accounts for $4.5M in cap space and the team could save $3M if they were to move on.

While Perine had 53 carries for 238 yards on the ground last year, his value came up big for Denver in the pass-catching department.

He caught 50 passes for 455 yards, averaging 9.1 yards per catch. Perine moved the chains consistently for Denver’s offense in several clutch moments last year, with 23 of his 50 catches leading to a first down.

He’ll look to hold off Jaleel McLaughlin, who consistently demonstrated explosive bursts in the run game and also contributed to the passing offense as well. Payton has alluded to the possibility that McLaughlin can do more for Denver’s offense, including fitting into the ‘Joker’ role that Payton has used in his offense with players like Reggie Bush, Alvin Kamara, and Taysom Hill.

McLaughlin’s size was the one area of his game where he faced a disadvantage in terms of pass protection, but one source told me that McLaughlin has worked on adding some size this offseason.

Estime will compete during training camp and the offseason for a premier role, but he should be heavily involved in what Denver plans on doing in 2024 from a rushing standpoint. His size and explosiveness in between the tackles should help him emerge as a menace in short-yardage or goal-line situations.

He should also help out in pass protection because of his size and stature.

Watson will be the wildcard as an undrafted rookie free agent. He’s extremely explosive and could even emerge as a potential kick return option for Denver this upcoming season.

“But if you asked me the traits that attracted us to Blake, it was certainly what we saw in the passing game, and you saw pretty good football IQ too,” Payton said of Watson during rookie minicamp.

OTAs are the appetizer for what we expect to be an exciting summer of position competitions across the board for the Denver Broncos.