Broncos should make Javonte Williams their featured running back

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Late in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater opted not to tackle defensive back Darius Slay, who returned a fumble 82 yards for a touchdown to give Philly a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

Bridgewater’s apparent lack of effort has become a hot topic in Denver, but that situation never would have happened if veteran running back Melvin Gordon had not fumbled on his 4th-and-1 rushing attempt.

Gordon should have protected the ball better, and the Broncos’ coaching staff perhaps shouldn’t have had him on the field in the first place.

Gordon has rushed 118 times for 522 yards this season with a respectable average of 4.4 yards per carry. Javonte Williams, meanwhile, has 103 carries for 514 yards this season with an even more impressive 5.0 yards per carry.

Despite his aggressive, productive running style, Williams has seemingly been underused this season. The rookie has received fewer than 10 carries in five times this year (including Sunday) and he’s received more than 15 carries in just one game (and he rushed for 111 yards in that contest).

Williams has proven he can be a reliable lead running back, and Gordon hasn’t been able to shake a fumble problem that has hindered his entire career.

Granted, Williams did fumble in Week 3 and he had a near-fumble in Week 8 but officials ruled that his knee was down before the ball came out. So Williams’ ball security hasn’t been perfect, but it has been better than Gordon’s, who has two fumbles this year and six dating back to last year.

Gordon has put the ball on the ground 20 times in his career, with 10 fumbles over the last three years (37 games). Williams obviously has a much smaller sample size in the NFL, but dating back to his time at North Carolina, Williams has half the number of fumbles (five) as Gordon in his last 37 games (college and pro).

Denver’s staff has split reps between Gordon and Williams pretty evenly, but it’s clear that Gordon is the team’s go-to back in important situations. Given Gordon’s fumbling problem and Williams’ productiveness this season, their roles should be switched going forward.

Gordon is scheduled to become a 29-year-old free agent in the spring and it’s hard to imagine the Broncos re-signing him. Williams is the team’s future, and he deserves to finish the season as the current No. 1 running back.

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