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Broncos running backs

Javonte rebound, or...?

It's hard to know what to make of the Broncos backfield. Javonte Williams is coming off a torn ACL and other ligament damage, but unlike say the Jets (who signed Dalvin Cook with Breece Hall coming off injury), Denver's words and actions suggest Williams be fine.

Williams was able to suit up and play in the preseason, and all indications are that he'll open as the starter. The team has only two other running backs on the roster. One is veteran Samaje Perine, the other is undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin (pictured). McLaughlin is small (5-9, 187), but is college football's all-time leading rusher and was effective in August, scoring 4 touchdowns in three preseason games.

If Williams experiences a setback, could McLaughlin be a factor?

He's on a roster, and with a coach in Sean Payton, for who a strong season out of an undrafted running back wouldn't be unprecedented. The Broncos have had some hits in this regard, and so has Payton.

In the last 20 years, there have been 52 undrafted running backs to finish with top-25 seasons. Payton coached one of the best of these backs, Pierre Thomas, in New Orleans. He also saw Chris Ivory have some success. Denver, meanwhile, has seen both C.J. Anderson and Phillip Lindsay put up strong numbers in that time period.

Table shows all undrafted running backs to put up top-25 seasons (PPR) in the last 20 years. Broncos and Saints from the Payton Era who did so are in bold.

UNDRAFTED RUNNING BACKS IN THE TOP 25 (2003-2022)
YearPlayerRunNoRecTDRk
2022Austin Ekeler, LAC915107722181
2021Austin Ekeler, LAC91170647202
2021Darrel Williams, K.C.55847452821
2021James Robinson, Jac.76731222824
2020James Robinson, Jac.107049344107
2020J.D. McKissic, Was.36580589317
2019Austin Ekeler, LAC55792993114
2019Phillip Lindsay, Den.101135196720
2018Phillip Lindsay, Den.1037352411013
2018Austin Ekeler, LAC55439404625
2017C.J. Anderson, Den.100728224418
2016LeGarrette Blount, N.E.1161738189
2016Isaiah Crowell, Cle.95240319714
2015Danny Woodhead, S.D.3368075593
2015Chris Ivory, NYJ107030217811
2014Arian Foster, Hou.124638327135
2014C.J. Anderson, Den.849343241011
2014Joique Bell, Det.86034322813
2014Matt Asiata, Min.570443121014
2014Fred Jackson, Buff.52566501316
2014Chris Ivory, NYJ82118123724
2013Fred Jackson, Buff.890473871011
2013Danny Woodhead, S.D.42976605812
2013Joique Bell, Det.65053547814
2013Pierre Thomas, N.O.54977513516
2012Arian Foster, Hou.142440217173
2012BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cin.109422104621
2012Joique Bell, Det.41452485323
2012Danny Woodhead, N.E.30140446724
2011Arian Foster, Hou.122453617123
2011Fred Jackson, Buff.93439442614
2011Mike Tolbert, S.D.490544331016
2011Pierre Thomas, N.O.56250425621
2010Arian Foster, Hou.161666604181
2010BenJarvus Green-Ellis, N.E.100812851319
2010Mike Tolbert, S.D.735252161121
2010Fred Jackson, Buff.92731215722
2010Danny Woodhead, 2TM54734379625
2009Ryan Grant, G.B.1253251971111
2009Fred Jackson, Buff.106246371413
2009Pierre Thomas, N.O.79339302819
2008Pierre Thomas, N.O.625312841219
2008Dominic Rhodes, Ind.53845302924
2007Earnest Graham, T.B.898493241010
2007Kenny Watson, Cin.76352374714
2007Ryan Grant, G.B.95630145817
2007Willie Parker, Pitt.131623164220
2006Willie Parker, Pitt.149431222167
2005Willie Parker, Pitt.120218218518
2004Priest Holmes, K.C.892191871518
2004Nick Goings, Car.82145394720
2003Priest Holmes, K.C.142074690271

In general, I have some interest in Williams -- some. Surely the team would have added more at the position (or retained another former Saints back, Tony Jones) if they were concerned about his ACL recovery.

But Perine, it seems likely, will get just as much work early on, as they ease Williams into the season. Maybe he'll get more work. And if Williams has as setback, perhaps McLaughlin, small though he is, will get a shot.

Perine looks like the safest fantasy option, and McLaughlin should be on a dynasty roster. Because you never know.

--Andy Richardson

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