The time is right for the Broncos to move on from Melvin Gordon
When the Denver Broncos hired Nathaniel Hackett as their new head coach, I felt it was great news for the team. We all like the idea (well, most of us) of Aaron Rodgers following Hackett from Green Bay to Denver, but until it happens, we can’t make plans as to what things will look like. Instead, we must look at what Hackett has done without Rodgers – just in case the Broncos can’t trade for the veteran superstar and four-time league MVP.
The most recent time without Rodgers during Hackett’s NFL career without Rodgers was when he was the offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hackett’s offense was able to get a team led by Blake Bortles one game away from the Super Bowl – literally one pass away from the big game. How did he do that, especially with such an average quarterback? Hackett’s offense led the league in rushing that year.
The Broncos used a two-back system in 2021 with veteran Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams. The team was about middle of the pack in the NFL, ranking as the No. 13 rushing offense with 2,025 rushing yards. Gordon’s contract is up with the Broncos, and he’s hitting the free agent market at almost 29 years old. Some want the Broncos to rinse/repeat with their running backs in 2022. I don’t think that’s the best plan.
The Broncos can safely move on from Gordon. Here are a few reasons why.
Finally Feature Javonte
When the Broncos landed Javonte Williams in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, I thought they got a great value. Williams was my No. 1 running back in that draft class, and he was the third back off the board last year. As a rookie, Williams split time with Gordon and ran for 903 yards with 43 catches for 316 yards with seven combined touchdowns. He was solid splitting time, notching three 100-yard games on the ground, but it’s time to feature Williams.
Running backs are like tires; they only have so much tread. Williams split time in college with Michael Carter (fourth-round pick of the New York Jets in 2021), so he came into the league with fewer touches than other backs who were featured in multiple years of college football. He’s got fresh legs and is built to take on a larger workload.
I compared Williams to Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, and I think he could handle a similar workload. The Browns use Chubb and Kareem Hunt as a nice 1-2 punch, but Chubb is clearly the featured back with Hunt working as a change-of-pace back. I think the Broncos could follow that plan with Williams and Mike Boone as the receiving/third-down back. Williams also proved that he’s a better-than-advertised receiver, so he can be a full-time player. When he needs a breather, Boone is more than capable of playing quality football and giving Williams time to rest.
Free Agency Options
Gordon is a veteran, and with that comes a larger-than-others price tag. So, how about the Broncos look at some cheaper options who are headed to the free agent market this offseason? We’ve looked at the free agent running backs at DenverFan.com, and I think there are some interesting names who could be a great fit here in Denver.
I would like to see if the Broncos can add Chase Edmonds in free agency. He’s a complete back who can run hard between the tackles, and he can be an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. Just 26 years old, Edmonds would be a perfect complement to Williams and if he needed to carry a larger load (if Williams was banged up) Edmonds could produce. He’s one of a few quality backs available in free agency, so perhaps the Broncos should look at a lower-priced free agent.
My pick would be Wayne Gallman. He’s more of an upright runner than I like, but Gallman is swift and can get to top speed in a hurry. His 3.7 yards-per-carry average for his career is not great, but Gallman can thrive in the right system. I think the Broncos could set him up as a runner with a wide-zone attack, and Gallman is proven as a receiver out of the backfield with 81 career catches.
Sleepers in the Draft
There might not be a first-round back in this draft class, Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III is the top back in my eyes and he’s a late first or early second-round pick. The Broncos don’t need a back with a premium pick (first three rounds). Instead, they need to be looking for backs in rounds four through seven who could contribute as rookies. There are quite a few backs I like in this range, but let’s look at two of my favorite sleepers.
Rachaad White, from Arizona State, could be a great change-of-pace back. He’s one of those players who can do it all because of his vision, instincts as a runner and nose for the end zone (15 rushing touchdowns in 2021). White gets to top speed in a hurry, but he knows how to stay patient as holes develop in front of him. He’s got the vision to find cutback lanes in a timely fashion, and White can bounce off tacklers who come in too high. He’s not a banger, so lower-body tackles bring him down but get him in space and watch him work.
As I wrote in my Shrine Bowl reports at DenverFan.com, I believe USC running back Keontay Ingram would be a great pick on the last day of the draft. He’s a sleeper in this class to be sure, but he’s got everything you want in a pro running back. Ingram is competitive, tough, willing to lower his pads for tough yards and he’s a good receiver who goes all out of the backfield. He plays with discipline and agility which can be featured on plays where he gets to space. Ingram has some moves to shake-and-bake defenders, and his feet almost punish the ground when he runs.
Gordon might be the best free agent back in this class. He’s certainly been productive and could be a featured back for some teams in the NFL. It’s just not in the best interest for the Broncos to bring him back. Even though Gordon wants to return, I’d say it’s best if they just move on.
Williams is ready for a larger role. He proved last year, leading the league in broken tackles, that he’s capable of taking the pro punishment and still producing. Williams also proved to be a better receiver than some thought he was coming out of North Carolina.
The free agent class isn’t great, but why spend a ton of money on a veteran like Gordon? Instead, cheaper options like Edmonds or Gallman could be the right move. Honestly, I think going with Boone as the No. 2 back could be the best move because he’s already here and under contract.
If the Broncos want to, they could take a back on the final day of the draft. They’ll find a quality group of backs when they get to the fourth round, so there’s no need to overdraft one. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if they added a back with a late-round pick and there’s a chance they could get an intriguing back (maybe Ingram) as a priority free agent after the draft. They’ve had a good history with undrafted backs (C.J. Anderson, Phillip Lindsay) and could find gold again.