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Backfield Battles -- Denver and San Francisco

Denver Broncos:

Javonte Williams got in some rest during the final preseason tilt, while the Broncos trotted out veteran incumbent Melvin Gordon for some first-team reps. Gordon was efficient and effective while producing 35 yards on five carries. But the real story was Williams’ rest – does this mean he’s done enough to earn a true featured role already? The answer is complicated.

First, we know the Broncos are extremely high on Williams. The front office has compared him to Nick Chubb. Teddy Bridgewater said he reminds him of Alvin Kamara. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know teams plan to use guys they draft early and start comparing to All Pro-caliber players. But eventually the substance has to equal the hype, especially when a reliable top 20 NFL runner is still on the roster. So far this preseason, Williams has flashed the open-field tackle breaking and punch-you-in-the-mouth pass protection that fueled his draft stock.

But his weaknesses have always been subtle, yet substantial. At UNC he often processed reads too slowly to keep up with his blocking, and would end up pushing his runs to the outside in order to buy time on murky reads, especially on zone runs.

On limited carries this preseason he has not shown substantial improvement in his zone processing.

This issue will limit Javonte against full-speed NFL defenses with sound run fits. He offers plenty of tackle-defeating skill and passing game benefit to earn playing time immediately, and his draft capital and wish-it-true organizational comments hint towards eventual backfield dominance whether he improves or not. But in a fair fight, Melvin Gordon still has plenty of juice to play a big role in Denver’s offense.

San Francisco 49ers:

Kyle Shanahan opened up a bit of his Trey Lance playbook last week, and the results were thrilling.

Raheem Mostert missed out on his 2020 breakout with nagging injuries, but the surfer dude is insanely explosive with the best top-end running back speed in the game. With defenses stretched to account for Lance’s potent rushing threat, Mostert is going to feast, producing explosive runs and operating with insane production efficiency. Trey Sermon continues to look ahead of the game, as expected, but is better used in tight spaces with murky rushing lanes where he can apply his excellent vision and pad placement. Expect a split backfield with some limited TD upside – given Lance surely will run in his fair share of scores – but the chance for explosive performances along the way.


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