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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Should the Bills value UNC’s Javonte Williams more than Clemson’s Travis Etienne?

Written by Greg Boucher

Anyone paying attention to the NFL last year knows that the Buffalo Bills were a record setting offense, scoring nearly 32 points per game on way to a 13-3 season but the bulk of their production was fueled almost exclusively by the emergence of Josh Allen and the passing game. While they proved they can be successful relying heavily on the pass it is not something they should try and sustain, balance is the key. To achieve that balance the Bills will need to improve their run game, not only as a means to keep opposing defenses from sitting in dime personnel and scheming to slow down the passing attack but as a measure eat up clock or slow down games to give their defense a rest when needed, something they were not able to do consistently enough last season and it may have cost them a trip to the Superbowl. Let me preface this analysis by first stating that I am in the camp that believes we have enough talent in the backfield right now with Moss and Singletary, that the improvements have to not only come up front but have to be made with our blocking scheme, that drafting a running back early would be redundant and futile until the real problems are addressed. But if Brandon Beane has his heart set on selecting a RB in the 1st round then it should be Javonte Williams and not Travis Etienne, yes you read that correct.

I may be one of the few who feels this way but I believe Javonte Williams is the clear cut best running back in this draft and if Beane feels an infusion of talent is what is needed to fix the problem than Williams is the guy. Sure, Etienne is a great back, as is Najee Harris but neither have the combined abilities that Williams does in my opinion. In 11 games in 2020, while sharing time with another NFL prospect Michael Carter, he carried the ball only 157 times but managed major production in the volume of 1,140 yards 19 TD averaging a whopping 7.3 yards per carry. While Williams made the most of his opportunities on the ground he was just as productive through the air, hauling in 25 passes for 305 yards and 3 more scores. Certainly, great production is not the only marker of great back, it is the manor in which these backs produce that warrants such distinction. Williams has outstanding vision, he is able pinpoint his seem, and without hesitation he bursts through like a freight train, and with his powerful style of running, arm tackles and poor technique do not stand a chance at slowing him down, let alone bringing him down.

“I feel like it’s something that just happened for me. I never want to be tackled by the first defender. I can’t let the first person wrap me up. It’s just a mindset, to be honest with you. I’m always trying to run through the first defender.” Williams said when asked about his ability to break tackles during a Draft Network interview.

Running through defenders is something he did more than any other back in the country. Williams broke a staggering 75 tackles on the season which equates to almost ½ a missed tackles per touch. In 2020 he recorded 40 runs of 10-yards or more and of those 40, 14 of them went for 20-yards or more. Even more impressive is that of those big gains, first contact was made on avg. between -3 yards and +5 yards which means Williams is not only able to break tackles and make defenders miss but he is able to do so without surrendering speed as he is able to gain big chunks of yards after contact. This is credited not only to his physical running style, where he looks to punish defenders, by lowering his shoulder and plowing through them but his incredible contact balance. Williams is able to absorb contact extremely well, being 5’10/220lbs. he has the perfect build and composure of mass to deflect tacklers and keep his feet, while lessening his tackle surface. This is why offensive coordinator Phil Longo called his number so often on short yardage plays and must have 1st down situations, as he moved the chains 72 different times in 2020 on his way to being one of the highest graded backs in the country earning a run grade of 95.9.

While Williams has the size and strength to be utilized as power back, pounding between the tackles, wearing out linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field, he has the explosiveness and sheer speed to claim the edge on defenses and get north in a hurry. Speculated 40 times for Williams are in the low 4.5 range which would be a solid time for a back of his size. While speed is an essential asset in the NFL for it to be truly useful at the running back position it has to be accompanied with an element of suddenness, which Williams definitely possesses. He has the ability to rapidly shift direction, changing up the angles of would-be tacklers, forcing them to alter their approach which often times leads to bad form and arm tackling. While Williams has the speed and suddenness, he also has a solid bevvy of deceptions and moves which he deploys effectively. He can be seen all over his 2020 highlight reel, spinning off of tacklers, hurdling over those diving at his legs and delivering stiff arms to unsuspecting defenders as he grinds for more yards, all the while maintaining his downhill speed.

While Williams brings a ton of talent to the run game, he is no slouch when he’s called upon in the passing game either. In his three years at North Carolina, he hauled in a total of 50 passes; turning them into 539 yards and 4TDs. While he is not the most accomplished route runner, not having been tasked with a complex tree out of the backfield he certainly has the basics down. What is most appealing about his ability to catch, aside from his obvious talent to run afterwards is the consistency in which he comes down with the ball in contested situations. He has strong hands, he catches the ball away from his body, not trapping it against his pads then tightly secures it before becoming a runner. He clearly has the talent to be an effective receiver in a multitude of ways, especially in Daboll’s pass heavy offense, he can be released, motioned or dialed up on screens.

Being an outstanding runner, blended with power and speed, fine tuned with vision and tackle breaking ability and being a sound pass catcher still does not make you a complete back in this era of the NFL. Today backs are required to pass protect often and must stand in against blitzing backers and free running defensive ends. When it comes to this, Williams is an extremely willing blocker who does not shy away from contact in the least, he looks for it regardless if the ball is in his hands or not. Whether in pass pro or while being used as a lead blocker, he approaches the responsibility with terrifyingly high effort. He does not just look to remove the defender from the play, he looks to remove the player’s head from his body, he uses his legs, coils up and explodes into blocks. There are plenty of instances where he steps up and levels rushers in pass pro, or snaps their heads back and reroutes them clearing the pocket for his quarterback. Combining this tenacity and toughness with his other special traits as a runner and a catcher is what separates him from Etienne and Harris and what makes him the most complete back in this draft.

I believe there are other more pressing needs to address at the top of the draft but if Beane wants to add a running back at 30, one who can upgrade this rushing attack, who can do more with less, who can create opportunities on his own, who can punish defenders, who can be a dangerous checkdown for Allen, who can stand in and pick up the blitz, Javonte Williams is the only option.

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