Let’s just come right out and say it: former Tar Heels running back Javonte Williams may be the best running back available in the NFL Draft. It is hard to contest that Najee Harris and Travis Etienne are also elite running backs and that they could absolutely get picked ahead of him, but Williams is a plug-and-play every down back that will make some team extremely happy.
Let’s take a look a closer look at Javonte Williams by discussing his final season as a Tar Heel, his strengths, and his weaknesses.
Javonte Williams is a 5’10, 212-lb running back from Wallace, NC. He played three seasons for the North Carolina Tar Heels, and finished his college career with 366 carries for 2,297 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Williams also got some touches out of the backfield as a receiver, finishing his career with 50 receptions for 539 yards and 4 receiving TDs. In his final season with the Tar Heels, Williams finished with 1,445 all-purpose yards and a team-high 22 touchdowns, making him Mack Brown’s most lethal weapon since he returned as the head coach.
As for the measurables, here is some of the data from the NFL Draft combine via Mockdraftable:
Javonte Williams is very hard to take down when he gets going, and his 2020 season has plenty of highlights to back that up. It was extremely rare to see him go down via the first tackle at UNC, and more often than not it took two or more extra guys to bring him down. Williams does a great job of slipping out of ankle tackles and slamming on the breaks to make defenders miss, but it is the physicality that he plays with that is perhaps the most impressive. Check out this video of Williams running against Miami, and around the 1:14 is when he has his most impressive run of the game (the season?):
While Williams is certainly as good of a power back as you can ask for, he also became a good blocker for Sam Howell in UNC’s Air Raid offense. He did a very good job of picking up blitzes this past season, and was able to do his job efficiently decides some holes in the offensive line itself. Phil Longo’s style of offense definitely gave Williams more than enough experience playing out of shotgun formation, but it will be interesting to see how effective he will be when it comes to single back and I-formation type sets.
It is really hard to find many flaws in Javonte Williams’ game, but if we had to start with one it would be his running style itself. We’ve seen it time and time again in the NFL where players that thrive on contact take years off of their careers in doing so. While Williams isn’t the most excessively punishing running back I have ever seen (Michael Turner, Adrian Peterson, Jerome Bettis, and most recently Derrick Henry come to mind), one has to wonder if his style of play will be able to hold up into his 30s when most backs tend to retire.
Another aspect of Williams’ game that could use improvement is his hands. While he was productive for the Tar Heels out of the backfield, it was hard to argue that Williams was at his best when he was running the football instead of catching passes. An infamous moment from last year’s season was when Sam Howell threw the ball to Williams on fourth down with 44 seconds left in the game against FSU, and he failed to hang onto it. We probably do not need to see that video again, but it is definitely a good example of some needed improvement in that department.
Overall, it wouldn’t surprise me if Javonte Williams was one of the first players drafted in the second round of this draft. There are a number of teams that could use a running back that would be able to give them production almost immediately, and he is absolutely a player that would do just that. I can see him having a very successful career wherever he ends up, and we should expect to see a lot of fun highlights early and often.