BRONCOS

With Javonte Williams out, it’s time for Broncos to look at RB options

Oct 3, 2022, 12:20 PM
Kareem Hunt...
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos received terrible news about running back Javonte Williams on Monday. Williams was injured against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, and further testing revealed that he has a significant knee injury.

This means Williams is done for the season. This also means the Broncos will be scrambling to replace him. Melvin Gordon is the next man up, but the team may not trust him because he’s fumbled in every game this year including one against the Raiders that was returned for a touchdown.

With his skill set, Williams may never be the same again upon his return at some point in 2023. So, what about the rest of this year? Who are some options for the Broncos could look at to replace Williams? Let’s take a look.

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Trade for Kareem Hunt

The Cleveland Browns have a surplus of running back talent on their roster. Kareem Hunt is a backup behind Nick Chubb, and even third-string back D’Ernest Johnson can play a larger role and produce if called upon.

If I’m Broncos general manager George Paton, I’m picking up the phone to see if Hunt or Johnson would be available via trade. Hunt is the backup to Chubb, but he’s seeing regular work during the regular season with Hunt getting 15, 15, 15, and 12 touches over the first four weeks of the season.

Hunt led the league in rushing when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs during his rookie year of 2017. He’s upset with his contract situation, and there was buzz he would be traded before the start of the 2022 season. Hunt is in the final year of his contract, and he’s set to be a free agent in 2023. The Browns can trade him now or lose him next offseason and just get a compensatory pick. If the Broncos offered a mid-round pick, and perhaps a player of need, then they could get them to budge on Hunt.

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Trade for Alexander Mattison

Behind superstar running back Dalvin Cook, the Minnesota Vikings have a fine back in Alexander Mattison. A third-round pick out of Boise State in 2019, Mattison has worked as a reserve and part-time starter during his pro career. Anytime Mattison gets extra work, he tends to produce and there are many times when he looks almost as good as Cook. It’s clear that Mattison could be a productive starter if given the opportunity.

Paton knows Mattison because he was on staff under former Vikings GM Rick Spielman when the Vikings selected him in the draft. Mattison is a good back with a three-down skill set. Cook is banged up with a shoulder injury (again), but the Vikings don’t use Mattison that much. Behind Mattison there are talented backs like Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler (a favorite rookie of mine) who are looking for more opportunities.

Like Hunt, it’s going to take some assets to get Mattison. Also, like Hunt, Mattison is in the final year of his contract and set to leave the Vikings next year. I think the price tag for Mattison would be a little smaller than it would for Hunt because he doesn’t have the same track record. That means the Broncos might be able to get him for just a mid-round pick or just a player of need, and perhaps Paton would have better success dealing with his former team (even though Spielman was fired) than he would dealing with the Browns.

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Pluck Duke Johnson from Buffalo

The Broncos don’t have many assets to trade in terms of draft picks. That means they could be prompted to look for practice squad backs they can steal from other teams instead. With current practice squad rules, the Broncos actually could go shopping and find veteran talent with the upside they need.

I think Duke Johnson could be a target for the Broncos. Johnson is one of those veteran backs who has never had a full season to prove himself as a starter. However, he’s the type of player who produces when starting. Johnson has bounced around the league, but now he’s on the practice squad of the Bills. They are stacked at the position, and they could lose him without missing a beat.

If a player is approached to get pulled from a practice squad, the team that has him can offer him a contract to stay on the active roster. I don’t think the Bills would do that with Johnson. He reminds me of former Broncos running back Justin Forsett. Like Forsett, Johnson has flashed ability but never gotten a full chance. Forsett bounced around to five different teams before finally getting starter’s work when he rushed for over 1,000 yards. Johnson could be that guy for the Broncos, and he’s a good receiver out of the backfield.

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Sign undrafted free agent Abram Smith

One of my favorite UDFAs this year was Baylor running back Abram Smith. He was signed by the New Orleans Saints after the draft, but he failed to make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp. Since being released by the Saints, Smith has gotten interest with workouts from a few teams. Those in the scouting community know that he could help a team.

Smith is a big bodied back like Williams, measuring in at 220 pounds. Like Williams, Smith is a former linebacker who runs with a punishing style. Smith has the strength to live between the tackles, but he also has the burst to get to and through the line of scrimmage quickly. I like his patience as a runner, something that is paramount in the zone-blocking system. Even on special teams, Smith has put good film out there as a coverage player.

He’s unproven as a receiver out of the backfield, but Smith did put good film out there with his ability in pass protection. He was one of those training camp stars for the Saints, and several reporters around the team were surprised he didn’t make the active roster. He’s available as a free agent right now, and Smith would come with the lowest price of any of the backs mentioned in this article. He’s a long shot to be sure, but it’s a shot I would be willing to take given the current situation.

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With Javonte Williams out, it’s time for Broncos to look at RB options