Last night, Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season wrapped up, giving us a sight we didn’t think we’d see all year: The Seattle Seahawks sitting atop the NFC West standings. Geno Smith and company gave Broncos country the business, taking down the heavy favorite by a final of 17-16. The Broncos had several chances to win the game, but goal-line fumbles from both Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon cost Denver dearly.
The usage of both Williams and Gordon was puzzling in and of itself. While many fans, myself included, believed Williams would be the more-featured back in Denver’s offense this season, it was Gordon who received nearly twice as many carries — 12 to Williams’ seven. This goes against everything we heard during the offseason. Gordon himself had stated that the Broncos wanted Williams to be “the guy.” However, the pair’s Week 1 usage would indicate that, at the very least, the two will split carries once again, or at worst, Gordon will be the feature man on the ground. Why, though?
Why would Denver refuse to re-sign Gordon, only to bring him back on a reduced salary if Gordon was going to be used so heavily? Why would head coach Nathaniel Hackett sing Williams’ praises just to use him minimally in the run game? Why would Williams be out on the field so often (58 percent of snaps), if the team isn’t going to run with him?
These questions were likely plaguing the heads of every Williams owner in fantasy, and they’re all viable. Even Peyton Manning and Shannon Sharpe were confused with how little Williams was being used in the ground game. Throughout the ManningCast, Sharpe insisted that Gordon only come into the game when Williams was tired. When Sharpe asked Peyton if he felt the same, the elder Manning replied, “You know, I would have to agree with you there.” In all fairness, perhaps Peyton just wanted to seem agreeable to Sharpe, and didn’t really believe what he said, but that’s just as likely not the case.
The question still remains though. In the two years that Williams has been in the league, he’s been far more versatile than Gordon. While the two match up quite well in terms of yards per carry, Williams had six rushes of 20-plus yards in 2021, compared to three for Gordon, despite both players handling the same amount of carries across the entire season. Furthermore, Williams was more effective as a pass-catcher, managing 43 receptions and 7.3 yards per reception in 2021. Those 43 receptions are better than any mark Gordon has recorded in the last three years. That 7.3 yards per reception from Williams is better than Gordon’s mark in two of the last three full seasons. Gordon is a much better pass-blocker, but in terms of running routes, Williams has the edge.
Williams is younger, more explosive, and frankly, more talented than Gordon at this point in Gordon’s career, and the fact that Gordon still controlled 60 percent of the carries is not a good sign. Am I overreacting to a Week 1 that didn’t go according to plan for the Broncos? Perhaps. Is one week too early to start panicking about Williams’ usage in the run game? Probably. That said, Gordon made it seem as though he wouldn’t infringe on Williams’ workload prior to the season. However, after one week, that 60/40 split we thought we’d see in favor of Williams looks to be leaning in Gordon’s favor. At least Williams was involved in the passing game, but ask any Williams owner and they’ll tell you… that’s not enough.