Sean Payton’s arrival in the Mile High City presents the Denver Broncos with the opportunity to return to their roots — running the football. With Javonte Williams coming back from his injury from last year, the team signing Samaje Perine in NFL Free Agency, and a stable of backs behind them competing for the RB3 role, training camp will be an exciting time to evaluate every option.

Javonte Williams return means good things for the Denver Broncos

It hasn’t been a year since Javonte Williams tore his ACL in the Denver Broncos Week 4 loss against the Las Vegas Raiders, but his progress attacking physical therapy and rehab has been impressive.

Williams shocked many when he was seen in attendance during Broncos OTAs and minicamp participating on a limited basis, just seven months after suffering a torn ACL, LCL, and posterolateral corner tear in his right knee. What should Broncos fans expect from Williams at training camp?

While Sean Payton said he expects Williams to be ready for the start of training camp, that doesn’t mean that he’ll be ready to participate in a full capacity. Limited participation often means that a player participates in position-specific drills. Full participation means participating in individual drills and the full team period. It wouldn’t come as a shock if Williams were limited throughout the entire duration of training camp to give himself the best opportunity to be fully ready for Week 1.

One important element to consider for Williams as he continues to progress is not putting his knee through unnecessary wear and tear throughout camp, and it would be shocking if he played in the preseason. However, Williams could see several carries during the preseason to get him ready for what physical contact would look like if he were ready for Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Ironically, his potential return would come against the team he suffered the injury. That storyline makes the matchup even more exciting on paper. Williams was a big part of how the Broncos planned to operate offensively last season, and there was a noticeable decline in offensive production following his injury in Week 4.

His return will be a good thing for the Broncos, but it’s worth asking whether or not a by-committee approach will be the team’s best route offensively to get the most out of Williams and the team’s potential offensive production. If Denver’s offense plans to rush the football up to 35 times per game, Williams could be better suited getting 15-16 of those carries and splitting them up with Samaje Perine or a combination of Perine and another potential back.

Can Samaje Perine provide even more value to the Denver Broncos than he did for the Cincinnati Bengals?
Samaje Perine was an unsung hero for the Cincinnati Bengals over the course of his tenure there. Despite playing behind Joe Mixon, Perine’s impact helped the Bengals get to the Super Bowl in 2021 and the playoffs in 2022.

Perine signed a two-year deal in NFL Free agency and has the chance to have an even bigger impact and increased role with the Broncos. During his four-year stint in Cincinnati, Perine averaged 4.0 yards per carry, according to Pro Football Reference. On top of that, he rushed for over 941 total yards, six rushing touchdowns, 549 receiving yards with an average of 7.2 yards per reception, and five receiving touchdowns.

At 5’11 240 lbs, Perine’s ability to help in pass protection gives him a diverse skillset as an all-around back that will allow him to thrive theoretically in Payton’s offensive scheme. If, for some reason, Javonte Williams was not fully ready to go for the start of the season, Payton and Broncos general manager George Paton have both expressed their comfort in Perine starting for them.

If Williams is fully ready to go, the Denver Broncos offense will benefit from using him and Perine as the primary one-two punch, especially over a 17-game regular season. Stylistically, it feels like Perine and Williams complement each other well in terms of their playstyle and abilities.

All signs point to the Denver Broncos carrying three running backs on their roster
The only training camp position battle at the running back spot for the Denver Broncos will likely be for the team’s RB3 role. As it currently stands, Tyler Badie, former New Orleans Saints RB Tony Jones Jr, and undrafted rookie free agent Jaleel McLaughlin will compete for that spot on the roster.

Badie saw his first ever NFL action in Week 18 last year, where his first career touch saw him rattle off a touchdown, catching a pass out of the backfield and taking it 24 yards for a touchdown against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Chargers. Badie’s Welcome to the NFL, Rookie moment was fun to watch, but he’ll have to carry that momentum into training camp and the preseason, where he’ll compete against the two other backs listed.

Jones Jr. reunites with Sean Payton after spending 2020 and 2021 with him. The 5’11, 245lb back has a similar frame to Perine’s but limited overall experience appearing in 18 total games. The most action he saw came in 2021 under Payton, where he appeared in 11 games and started in four of them that season.

He had 54 carries for 142 yards on the ground in 2021 while hauling in five catches for 29 yards out of the backfield.

The final player involved in the likely RB3 competition will be McLaughlin, the NCAA’s All-Time leading rusher. At 5’7, 187 lbs, McLaughlin possesses the most explosive ability by far than any of the other rushers on the roster. During Broncos OTAs, the undrafted rookie free agent looked springy between the tackles and demonstrated the ability to catch a pass out of the backfield, plant his foot in the turf, and turn on the burners — getting behind the defense sometimes.

All of this happened without pads, which makes training camp even more pivotal for him and the other tailbacks. The most important measure in terms of evaluation during training camp and preseason for all three backs will be; how they manage in pass protection, ball security, following their blocks, and getting north-south consistently. McLaughlin’s speed gives him the distinct advantage of being a potential blur against opposing defenses in the preseason.

Denver Broncos running back position overview

Running backs on the roster: Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine, Tyler Badie, Tony Jones Jr., and Jaleel McLaughlin.

Storylines to watch

  • What will Javonte Williams workload look like?
  • Will Samaje Perine and Javonte split carries equally?
  • Could Jaleel McLaughlin emerge as an undrafted gem?
  • Who wins the Broncos RB3 competition?

What’s next?
The Denver Broncos will be on the field for training camp at the Centura Training Center on July 28 at 10:00 a.m.