When you come from a small town it seems like you have to prove yourself on a daily basis. You have to prove you belong with the big boys from the bigger schools. The questions around your talent grow even further when you are a 5’ 10” (with your shoes on) running back.
That’s the way it was for Javonte Williams from little Wallace, North Carolina, population 3,891. “Coming from a small town you just got to make the most out of what you got, so I feel like that’s what helped me be so successful at Carolina. I’m not used to having too much, but I know how to make the most of what I got. So, I just kept that mentality coming into UNC. I just kept my head down and worked and did everything I was supposed to do,” Williams said.
Williams may be only 5’ 10” but he is a stout 220 lbs with some wiggle plus enough speed to make him hard to catch. Williams is not going to run away from anyone or juke them out of their shoes, but he has good vision, quickness through the hole, power to run people over plus the ability to force missed tackles, a lot of tackles. He led the nation in missed/broken tackles with 75; he did so with a mere 157 rushing attempts. He averaged breaking a tackle on .48 of his runs, just about every other rush. It is a PFF record for broken tackles per attempt. He also gained at least 10 yards on 26.8% of his attempts. He led the country by a wide margin with 23 rushes that gained 10 yards after first contact. He did so despite only being 19th in rushing attempts this year. He was 9th in yards per carry (7.3) in the nation last year as well.
Williams was a record breaker for rushing TDs at North Carolina with 19 in 2020. He was also deadly out of the backfield with a 12.2 yards per reception on 25 catches with 3 TDs. Williams is not a RB who just flares out into the flat. No, he actually runs routes. He can run options routes, digs, and even the seam.
Williams was part of the best duo of running backs in the country with Michael Carter. Carter had one less carry than Williams but gained 105 more yards. Like Williams he also caught 25 passes and was 3rd in the nation for yards per carry (7.98). Carter is more of a third down back in the NFL since he is only 5’ 8” 199 lbs.
With Williams I could show you 100 clips of great plays but selected a few that illustrate his skill set the best. On this first clip Williams takes a handoff on a simple off tackle play and turns it into one of those 10 yards after contact plays I mentioned earlier.
From the pistol Williams takes the handoff from the QB then crosses the formation to the right. He runs through a nice hole formed by a great kick out block on the right defensive end by the offensive left tackle. What you see when he runs over the safety is power with great balance. A hallmark of Williams is great balance. Being 5’ 10” ish is conducive to having excellent balance because the center of gravity is much lower than a big back.
What you will see here on this next clip is patience with acceleration. Williams will always try to square his pads to the line before hitting the gas. He does this because it accentuates his power. He runs behind his pads. Being a short stocky RB he is much easier to tackle from the side as he is not a slasher type runner. He just needs to get square to the hole. Then he is a load to take down.
Watch as Williams takes the handoff, does a couple of side steps, then races through the hole. When he sees contact coming he always lowers his pad to inflict punishment on the tackler instead of visa-versa. His power and acceleration along with his compact size make it nearly impossible to arm tackle him once he has a head of steam.
In this next clip Williams shows some vision plus some speed. Williams is not a burner like some leaner running backs, but he has some juice. Plus he can take a pounding that workhorse backs receive in the NFL.
This run shows you the vison I was talking about. The last time he saw the safety #6 he ran him over. This time he had an outlet so he was able to cut back outside. He had enough speed to run around then by the safety. Williams is not just some power back who can only bowl a defender over but rather a versatile runner who seeks extra yardage when available. When those avenues are not there he gets what he can while delivering punishment. This is FSU he is playing against so you know all these players can run. For Williams to outrun a safety to the outside is impressive at his size.
This next play is a pass play with no blitzing by the defense. This allows Williams to slide out into a route while being guarded by an ILB who he should outrun with ease. In fact he is so confident that he will run away from the ILB that he runs a very poor route by rounding off his cuts keeping his full head of steam.
When the pass doesn’t come because the QB is flushed from the pocket he smartly doesn’t stop. He continues downfield looking for an open area to sit. Little did he know the ILB blew a tire behind him. He is wide open in the middle of the field with a clean shot to the end zone. The ILB would have not made the play if he didn’t fall down anyway. This was just a heads up play by a player who never gave up on the play.
Later in the same game with North Carolina on the comeback trail we have another impressive run by Williams. Again from the pistol the Tar Heels run an off tackle trap play with a pulling left guard and the TE from the slot to lead the way.
This is a power run but watch as Williams again takes his time to wait for the blocks to develop. He takes a few side steps then puts his foot in the ground to rocket through the hole. He squares himself up with the line so all his force is headed forward. He is able to break two tackles on his way to a 16 yard run.
Williams prefers to keep his pads square to the line of scrimmage before he gets there, but that is not a requirement to a successful play. Like I stated earlier Williams has a little wiggle to his game along with the power running game. Here the defense is squeezing all the holes so Williams is forced to the outside, something he can also do very well.
With the lanes clogged up Williams shows some start and stop ability leaving the left corner grasping at air. He then tiptoes down the sideline with the ILB missing a tackle until he is finally pushed out of bounds for a 15 yard gain. Also notice that signature body lean before contact, it does two things: 1) gets him good leverage against the tackler providing the punishment not absorbing it 2) gains an extra yard or two falling forward.
This next run vs. NC State is a read option out of a pistol formation should belay any fears that Williams is a plodding type back. The play is run to the left where the line provides a huge hole for Williams. When the ILB is on a blitz that takes him right out of the play which clears the way for Williams.
Williams makes it through the gaping hole then sets up the safety by taking a step towards him that causes the safety to stop his feet for an instant. Williams accelerates left leaving the safety in a trail position. After that it’s an easy read of the downfield blocks as he strolls into the end zone. Williams look very fluid with an easy running style on the play.
This next play against Syracuse is a simple running play up the middle that is again designed to cross the formation then this time go through he a gap to the right side of the center. Again they pull the right side TE to trap block the defensive end to the left of the offense line.
Williams takes the ball on the faux read option play (He was getting it all the way.) then heads left. The hole has formed on the other side of the center so he sticks his foot in the ground then powers through for the TD. He makes this play at full speed he even moves right, left, right through the hole for the easy score. Williams also keeps great security of the ball by covering it up. As a sophomore he fumbled 3 times in 166 touches but worked on his ball security. He only fumbled once in 182 touches in 2020 and recovered it.
If you want to be a three down back you have to catch the ball out of the backfield, be able to protect the QB, be able to handle a lot of punishment, and have the power to get the tough yards. Here Williams is trying to go off tackle again, but like before the hole is closed.
The motion to the left on the play by RB Michael Carter is supposed to take the run support with him but it doesn’t. Williams cuts out to his left, turns the corner, then powers through the combined tackles of the ILB and safety. He barely breaks stride on his way to the end zone. This is power but also great contact balance as he is very difficult to tackle above the waist. You must take out the legs.
This next play against Virginia Tech is another subtle move along with his great contact balance that gets in the end zone. This is a variation of the same play we have witnessed a few times. This is a pistol formation with the handoff coming to Williams on the left side. He then crosses the formation to the right off tackle hole. They do this to give a misdirection to the defense but also allow time for the left guard to cross from his spot to kick out the defensive end on the opposite side.
Once Williams gets to the hole he sees the safety has stepped up to fill the area. Williams moves to his left making the safety’s shoestring tackle attempt insufficient to bring him down as Williams slides right to avoid the tackle. He then runs down the sideline where the tackle attempt of the ILB is not enough from preventing him from scoring. Even though Williams is known as a power back he still has some moves plus some giddy-up in his game.
This next play is another heads up play in the passing game by Williams. The situation is a 2nd and 20 from the opponent’s 41 yard line. Williams has no route on this play. He is in protection mode. When no defender blitzes he just helps with blocking the defensive line on the left side.
When the QB scrambles out to the right his protection duties are pretty much over so he leaks out into the center of the field. He keeps heading further downfield until the QB sees him then hits him with a strike then he does the rest. Watch how casually he catches the ball, like he does it 100 times a day. This was not a planned route, but Williams definitely has some soft hands. He also usually runs crisp routes so he will be a factor in the NFL in the passing game.
This next clip against Wake Forest is the same trap play to the right we have seen before. This time Wake is ready for the play. They have squeezed the hole with safety plus a linebacker to the outside.
Williams races to the outside but has the corner sitting in his way. He cuts back inside on the corner using the corner’s momentum against him. He then breaks the feeble tackling attempt. He then angles back to the right, breaking tackles of the ILB and the safety like it’s easy. All in all it is a 16 yard gain with three broken tackles left behind. It also took two defenders to finally stop him.
In the next clip Williams is playing Duke, I could show every play as a highlight because he had only 12 carries for 151 yards with 3 TDs. He added 4 receptions for 24 yards with an additional TD. Here he rambles 32 yards for a score without being touched. He still shows some new wrinkles to his skill set arsenal.
This is a variation of the same play we have seen numerous times. The TE in motion comes across the formation to block the backside RE instead of being the kickout (hole opener) for Williams. This is so teams can’t read the motion then have it take them to the ball. Watch Williams as he heads towards the hole. He can see the left tackle push the blitzing corner into oblivion. The hole is at the edge. Yet Williams runs right up to the line before he sticks right foot in the ground then pivots outside to his left. This is called pressing the hole. When you do that you suck up the 2nd level defenders which makes them less likely to get a great angle thus improving the chances of a splash play.
Watch the LILB (left inside linebacker) as Williams presses the hole. He keeps reading the play. As he does so his feet slow, and he drifts closer to the line of scrimmage. Once he sees where the play is going he doesn’t have enough depth to get a great angle to make the tackle. Instead he is trailing all the way as he watches Williams score. If Williams hadn’t pressed the hole by just running to the edge the LILB would have kept his momentum plus his depth so he would have made the play for a 5-7 yard gain, not a TD.
These last two clips are against Miami where again I could show you numerous great plays as Williams had a field day with 236 rushing yards on 23 carries. It was the most carries he ever had as a Tar Heel. The first clip is not a carry but a short pass just to change things up a little.
This is a 4 WR set with a pair of stacked receivers to each side. At the snap all 4 receivers run vertical routes with Williams coming through the line to run a “choice” route against the ILB. He makes a good cut which leaves the ILB in the dust. The throw is too low, but Williams shows great hands to dig out the low throw for a short completion. With the OLB playing zone coverage, a good throw would have allowed Williams a chance to break a tackle for a big play with all the other defenders well downfield.
Like I said earlier Williams isn’t a RB who can only be a “float to the flat” dump off pass catcher. No, he can run a variety of routes. I’m sure his next team will use his talents even more and enhance his route tree.
This last clip is much later in the game so I think Williams might be getting a little tired. He was well over 100 yards already, but this bruising run is typical of his effort. This 43 yard scamper that included 4 missed tackles was a spectacular effort for a runner having a career day.
Williams is my #3 RB as of right now for the 2021 NFL Draft, but he is not that far behind the “big 2” as you might think. Najee Harris is #1 on my board with Travis Etienne #2 just barely ahead of Williams mainly because of speed. That ranking could change. Williams has a different skill set than the other two. They all have their own unique qualities.
As of now I am not advocating the selection of anyone, but I know my top two guys (for now) should be gone in the top 40 picks. If so do you want to spend that much Draft capital if you are the Jets (a rebuilding franchise) when you have so many glaring needs? You do have other less costly choices to choose from with a variety of skillsets.
The Jets need a RB this year who is not as old as father time. They need someone who can be durable but also get some chunk yardage for the offense. You can’t live with 3 yards and a cloud of dust in today’s NFL.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?