Much of this off-season, the talk around the Broncos has centered on who will play quarterback. While that’s still a concern that will play out throughout the summer and, likely, the draft added a new wrinkle throughout the season. A question for all fantasy players is who leads the Broncos’ backfield in 2020?
For most of the off-season, things were trending in the right direction for Melvin Gordon. While the veteran still sits atop the depth chart, he’s no longer alone. So, is Gordon the best bet in the Broncos’ backfield? Let’s consider.
Flash Gordon to the Rockies
Gordon spent his first five seasons with the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers. During that time, he rushed for 4,240 yards and 36 TDs. But when Gordon held out to begin the 2019 season, it became clear his worth to the Chargers wasn’t as great as he’d hoped. It was hardly a surprise when the team let him walk after the 2019 season. When he hit the open market, it took some time to find a landing spot.
Gordon ended up in Denver, signing a two-year, $16 million deal. He came in last season expected to split the backfield with hometown hero Phillip Lindsay, who was coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Gordon thrived to close the season after getting off to a slow start as Lindsay ended up on the injured reserve. Gordon finished his first season in Denver with 986 yards and nine TDs, catching 32 passes for 158 yards and an additional TD. That gave the team encouragement heading into 2021.
Encouragement turned into optimism for those who roster Gordon as the Broncos opted not to retain Lindsay, rescinding his tender and allowing him to sign with the Houston Texans. Instead, the Broncos signed Mike Boone from the Minnesota Vikings, a running back with 379 yards rushing and four TDs in three seasons. Boone is known more for his Special Teams work, a role he figures to retain in Denver.
So, that left Gordon with less competition in the backfield. The Broncos still have Royce Freeman, the former Third-Round pick who is entering his fourth season in Denver. Freeman was once thought to be the future in the backfield for the Broncos but ended up playing second fiddle to Lindsay his first two seasons and dropped to third on the depth chart in 2020. In three seasons, he’s rushed for 1,187 yards and eight TDs. Freeman figured to be little more than depth and a change-of-pace back behind Gordon in 2021.
It appeared Gordon was in line for a feature role in 2021, but that outlooked changed on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.
Early in the Second Round, the Broncos traded up with the Atlanta Falcons to the No. 35 pick to snag Javonte Williams out of North Carolina. Viewed as one of the best prospects at the position in the draft, it was a bold move for the Broncos that signified their interest in Williams as a rushing prospect.
Williams rushed for 2,297 yards and 29 TDs in three seasons for the Tarheels. That included 2020, where he rushed for 1,140 yards and 19 TDs on 7.3 yards per carry in just 11 games. And that was splitting carries with Michael Carter, who also rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2020. Williams also caught 25 passes for 305 yards and three TDs in 2020, showing he’s a dual-threat. With that draft commitment and his college resume, Williams figures to be a factor right away for the Broncos.
If, like me, you’ve started rookie drafts already, you know Williams is going among the top three picks at running back and in the first round of drafts in all formats. He’s a good talent, and it’s a good landing spot. I have him ranked as my No. 2 rookie running back post-draft, the same place I had him before the draft. I expect him to have a good career in Denver and impact the field in 2021.
But Gordon isn’t going away. Those who roster Gordon were hoping for a big 2021, and while I think he’ll have a significant role I would suspect Williams will pose more of a threat to Gordon’s production in 2021 than Lindsay did in 2020. I suspect Gordon settles somewhere between RB25-30 for the season. And I doubt he’s back with the Broncos in 2022, meaning his dynasty value is more of a question.
I love Williams as a prospect, and I expect him to be a big factor in 2021. By season’s end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him leading the backfield. Williams is likely an RB3 in 2021, but the future is bright for the Broncos’ rookie and possibly for the entire offense if Drew Lock can take a step forward in year three.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard football fan and Denver Broncos homer. You can find more of his takes weekly on the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.