Where could the UNC star land?
Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes
Before the 2020 season, the consensus top tier of running back prospects consisted of Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne. While both of those running backs are still firmly among the best in the 2021 class, a new RB1 candidate emerged. Javonte Williams grew up in Teachey, North Carolina, and came to North Carolina as a 3-star recruit. In his freshman season, Williams rarely got the rock (51 touches.) Last year, as a sophomore, Williams logged 183 touches and eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage. In 2020, despite getting nine fewer carries, Williams totaled 207 more rushing yards than his 2019 season, and he also managed to set a career-high in receptions at 25. Javonte averaged 7.3 yards per carry, 12.2 yards per catch, and reached the end zone 22 times.
There is no denying the impact that Williams had on the dynamic UNC offense, even as he split carries with fellow running back prospect Michael Carter. Javonte broke the internet with his highlight runs vs. Miami, including one where he hurdled a defender then proceeded to truck a defensive back into another dimension in a 236-yard performance. Grown men are scared to tackle Javonte Williams, and for good reason. He comes in at a healthy 220 pounds and uses his weight to his advantage at every opportunity. Williams will turn 21 years old the week he is drafted, a fitting present for a young man that has the potential to go in the first round of the draft and become a force in the National Football League.
The Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons are the perfect team to convince themselves that taking a running back like Javonte Williams is in their best interest. Matt Ryan is only getting older, and management might want a shiny new toy in the backfield to make Ryan’s life easier. The Falcons also recently hired former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to be their new head coach.
Under Smith, Tennessee utilized Derrick Henry, their big bruising running back, to punish opposing defenses. While Williams does not have Henry’s size, they have nearly identical Body Mass Indexes (BMI), suggesting they are equally dense. Williams is projected to run in the mid 4.5s during his 40-yard dash, which would measure similarly to Henry’s 4.54 dash time. The Arthur Smith offense thrived with its emphasis on the running game with the Titans, and while Williams may not receive the 378 carries that Henry was fed in 2020, he certainly can be the new workhorse for the Falcons.
The Falcons’ current running back room for the 2021 season is Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison. While the Falcons could re-sign Todd Gurley to a cheap one year contract, they could also opt to spend the 35th pick in the draft on Javonte. The Falcons are currently in salary cap hell, and while new general manager Terry Fontenot may restructure contracts to free up cap space for the 2021 season, they still will not have much money to spend. This could lead to a prioritization of more high-impact positions in free agency and a focus on positions like running back in the draft. With Najee Harris likely to be off the board, Javonte would provide an excellent bell-cow for the foreseeable future.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are another team that will have to be conscious of the salary cap while making moves this offseason. Ben Roethlisberger is getting worse with every coming day and James Conner is an impending free agent. The Steelers currently have Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland rostered for next season, but neither has the skill to be a starting-caliber running back. The Steelers are 16 million dollars above the projected salary cap, so they will likely have to restructure Ben’s contract while also letting JuJu and James Conner walk. The Steelers may offer a contract to Leonard Fournette or Kenyan Drake, but they may have to look at the draft to acquire a starting running back.
The Steelers have picks 24, 55, and 88 in the top 100. It is not likely that they spend their top pick on a running back due to their needs at more valuable positions like offensive tackle. If Pittsburgh addresses their offensive line in round one, they will set themselves up to have an opportunity to take a running back in the second round. While most teams should not use significant draft capital on a running back, I believe that if the Steelers could grab Javonte at 55 they would be doing themselves a favor.
Not only is Javonte a great prospect, but he also would help the Steelers maximize their winning window. 2021 is likely Ben’s final season, and giving him a punishing running back would do wonders. Williams would also help ease the learning curve of the Steelers’ next franchise quarterback. The Steelers young wide receiver duo of Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson would complement a rushing attack led by Javonte Williams.
The Seattle Seahawks
During his offseason press conferences, Pete Caroll stressed that Seattle needed to get back to running the ball more often. While many analysts say that passing leads to more successful outcomes, they are not the ones calling the shots up in Seattle. The Seahawks lack a first-round pick due to the Jamal Adams deal, but there is a chance that Javonte Williams falls to them in the late second round. The Seahawks only have 15 million dollars in cap space for next season as of right now, so they will have to spend their money wisely.
Chris Carson’s cost-effective rookie deal ended after the 2020 season, and the Seahawks will now have to look for alternatives. The Seahawks already foolishly spent a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny, but the final year of his rookie deal is 2021. So, if the Seahawks want to plan for the future, they need to add a running back in some way. Pick 56, the Seahawks’ first selection in the draft, would be a great spot for Williams if he fell that far. Williams’ bruising running style emulates Carson’s physical game so much so that some have compared Javonte Williams to Chris Carson. If Javonte lands on a team with a dynamic quarterback like Russell Wilson, the sky’s the limit for him as a player and fantasy asset.
Javonte Williams is a great, young running back prospect. Even though he did not take every carry in college, he is capable of doing so at an above-average level in the NFL. His draft capital and athletic testing will factor into where he ranks come fall of 2021, but there is certainly nothing keeping him out of the RB1 conversation, and it should not shock anyone when Javonte becomes a great contributor in the NFL. His best landing spot in terms of immediate volume would be Atlanta, though his best long term outlook would come from teams like Pittsburgh, Seattle, and possibly Miami. He plays like a juiced-up version of Josh Jacobs with the qualities of Aaron Jones. Even though spending significant draft capital on running backs is not always beneficial for the team, Javonte is the type of player to help the team that drafts him no matter what.