RB | North Carolina Tar Heels | 5-10 | 220 lbs.
Though tiny, Wallace, North Carolina has a football pedigree. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of only 3,880 people. Covering barely three square miles, the area has still managed to produce a pair of former NFL third-round selections. RB Wray Carlton was taken by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1959 draft, and LB Nate Irving was scooped up by the Denver Broncos in 2011.
And the next Wallace product — maybe the best of them — almost quit football in high school.
From a very early age, Javonte Williams badly wanted to play football in Chapel Hill, growing up watching the Tar Heels with his father. “Pookie” received his first live taste of the action with flag football at the age of five. He frequently upset the parents of the other children, given how much he enjoyed tackling. It was an interest that would naturally push him toward the LB position. Williams focused everything on the field into the position.
As a junior at Wallace-Rose High School, Javonte averaged 16 tackles/game. He was a main reason the Bulldogs had won state championships in all three of his seasons, to date. But his recruitment went very slow. Some FBS programs didn’t think he had the speed, others called his size into question. As a LB, only Coastal Carolina, Charlotte, Army, Navy, Harvard, Furman, Gardner Webb, Elon, and Yale offered him after his junior season.
Javonte added a 2016 track and field state title in the 4x100-meter relay to his resume. But for the talented kid from a tiny town, playing for a smaller school just didn’t drive him. Williams, quiet by nature, seriously contemplated walking away from the game at the conclusion of his final season. That’s when the head coach of Wallace-Rose, Kevin Motsinger, thought of an alternative solution. He was fully aware of Williams’ ability to funnel his bottled-up emotions into every play on the field — he wanted him to convert to running back. Williams (pardon the pun) hit the ground running, going for over 200 rushing yards in three of his first four games at RB.
Even after rushing for over 2,000 yards with 25 TDs at that point in his senior season, he still hadn’t received an offer from his beloved North Carolina or from any other ACC school. Little did he know that former Tar Heels HC Larry Fedora would be in attendance during his final game, the 2A state championship. Williams took the very first handoff 73 yards to the house. He piled up 207 rushing yards with a pair of scores, seizing the honor as the game’s MVP. Not long after, Fedora offered Williams, and the rest is history. Williams graduated HS early with a GPA of 4.6 as the valedictorian of his class.
When he took the field for spring practices, Fedora immediately noticed his driven demeanor, saying that “he’s very mature in the way he handles himself and how he approaches every day.” But Williams wasn’t about to rest on his laurels. He had specific goals.
With Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams and Michael Carter ahead of him during his true freshman season, Williams knew he had an uphill battle toward seeing a significant role. And he would need to learn the nuances of the position, far beyond simply carrying the football, in order to take that next step toward achieving his dream.
Williams struggled quite a bit with his confidence without a defined role. His parents were concerned enough that they would travel to see him twice a week that season. His lack of confidence carried over into his true sophomore season. That would quickly change when, as a 19-year-old, he would leapfrog the other, oft-injured Williams in the rotation, and nearly rumble his way to a thousand yards. Williams and Carter had established themselves as a locked-in thunder-and-lightning backfield duo. He spent the next offseason working with Carter on agility drills and refining his route-running. As we’ll see, the results were obvious.
Another issue with playing for such a small school is failing to gain enough attention to be invited to Nike’s annual “combine,” The Opening Regionals. Since he failed to receive that invitation, we have nothing in the way of athletic testing prior to seeing the results of his upcoming UNC Pro Day on March 29. I never concern myself with 40-yard dash timings for RBs, unless they are very good. But I do consider the short shuttle (agility) and vertical jump (explosion) as extremely important when evaluating high school talent. Players dedicated to their craft will make such tremendous growths athletically during college that their post-college updated testing can make you wonder if the previous results were recorded by someone else.
A statement I rarely make: we simply do not need the athletic testing from Williams in order to build his pre-NFL evaluation. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s start with a look at his true sophomore tape. We’ll use this highlight reel. As mentioned, Williams was recruited to North Carolina by Fedora. But it was also RB coach DeAndre Smith who did much of the leg work. Smith played college ball at Southwest Missouri State with OC Chris Kapilovic. His first recruiting class would net both Williams and WR Dyami Brown, another20‘21 NFL prospect.
But Smith would only coach the RBs in 2017, replaced by Robert Gillespie. Fedora and Kapilovic would be replaced after the 2018 season by Mack Brown and Phil Longo, respectively. Over 60% of Williams’ yardage, 75% of his TDs would be earned outside the tackles on around 50% of carries in Longo’s 2019 offense. The rushing attack was actually mostly maintained from Kapilovic’s days, combining both Inside and Outside Zone blocking with Counter and Power Gap schemes. Brown retained Gillespie as his RBs coach, providing stability for Williams and Carter’s development.
The first Inside Zone example is shown at 1:14. This is intended to go off center to the right. However, the outside LB, Scott Patchen, dips inside on a designed stunt. Williams displays excellent vision to quickly diagnose the pattern, cutting it outside of right end, and slipping through a pair of tackle attempts. We see the exact same thing at 1:37. The value of the read-option is on full display at 1:28 when Jonathan Garvin attacks too far upfield chasing after Sam Howell. As the conflict defender, a properly run read-option will always force the wrong decision. Garvin just compounds his mistake, leaving a wide open zone gap for Williams to attack.
With Inside Zone blocking, the RB will always have the opportunity to bounce it outside if the inside is filled. That’s precisely what he does at 2:08, tacking on considerable yards after first contact. Williams’ sole rushing TD with Inside Zone blocking is shown at 3:34 vs. Clemson. A massive right A-gap opens up for Javonte on the 5:39 play. By lowering his pads, keeping those legs churning he doubles his run distance. It’s a great example of Williams attacking between the tackles -- others are shown at 1:45, 6:32, and 7:12.
With Outside Zone blocking, you’ll see the frontside of the O-line “reaching” to displace defenders from their gap assignments. The backside of the O-line will often either cutblock or seal off the backside edge. At the 3:56 mark, Williams speeds right through the left B-gap in spite of the D-lineman actually giving his LG fits. When you have a RB who knows how to read his gaps, defensive mistakes are devastating. At 4:48, Georgia Tech safety Charlie Thomas loses sight of the ball, abandoning the right B-gap. The price is 17 yards before contact, a pair of broken tackles, and 33 total yards. Additional examples on Outside Zone with more eluded tackles are shown at 6:03 and 8:26.
Counter blocking uses two pulling linemen or one lineman and either a backside fullback or H-back. The remainder of the O-line will down block the D-line in order to allow the ball carrier to hit the frontside E-gap. RB patience for his blocking to develop is key. UNC utilized Counter blocking for Williams more than any other concept in 2019. Sometimes, the backside conflict defender will make an immediate read, forcing the RB to abandon patience. We see that on the opening play (0:00) from South Carolina’s D.J. Wonnum. Other times, his blocking is simply outmaneuvered, forcing the swift approach (1:53). When everything comes together, Williams’ supreme patience is on full display (4:14, 6:23, and 6:48).
When you have a QB as skilled as Sam Howell, Counter blocking can be carried out in goal-to-go (G2G) situations. Williams is shown scoring his sole Counter TD from the ‘19 season at 8:02. And then we have the odd situation where one of his pulling O-linemen is confused on the run direction (LG at 8:18). Williams’ tackle busting ability sure comes in handy on the play. Two other Counter examples can be found at 6:40 and 6:56.
With only one backside puller, the concept is defined as Power. As with Counter blocking, the remainder of the O-line will block down. If you wanted to hand Williams a specific label, it would be “the top RB in the draft class with Power blocking.” One of his finest runs of the season is shown at 0:29 forcing missed tackles from R.J. Roderick, Jaycee Horn, and Shilo Sanders. Javonte scored 60% of his rushing TDs on Power in 2019. We see the first at 1:00, slipping outside of the Hurricanes’ pack. Gotta love Williams’ work to reach paydirt at 5:11. Howell drops the snap then, while picking the ball up, trips Marcus McKethan, the lead blocker, before handing off to Williams. Simply exceptional work from Williams turning it into a positive gain.
The final TD on Power occurs at 7:30. The blocking is spot on toward allowing Williams to showcase his speed. For more reasoning behind Williams as the premier Power ball carrier, check out 0:41, 2:52, 3:14, 3:44, 3:51, and 4:40. But 6:10 and 8:32 are two of his finer runs from the season. Finally, we can see Williams has made some improvement as a receiver. The examples shown can be split into two categories -- somewhat standing as a comparison to his receiving development at that time: simple flares and designed screens. You can find the screens at 0:17, 0:49, 2:35, 5:54, and 8:10. For the flare work, look to 2:25, 4:03, 7:19, and 7:48 for his lone receiving TD of the season.
For the breakdown of his true junior season, we’ll utilize this highlight reel. In Year 2 under Longo as OC, changes to the rushing scheme were enacted. The Tar Heels used Inside Zone blocking on nearly one-third more snaps. That resulted in a decrease in Counter (20%), Power (19%), and Outside Zone blocking (31%). The changes are especially surprising since the O-line remained completely intact. But how can we argue with the results? We have more examples from the footage with Williams scoring TDs on Inside Zone blocking than we do without TDs. During his previous season, Williams did not appear to trust either his blocking or own abilities between the tackles. Rather than only turning his runs to the outside when the interior was compromised, Williams appeared to be forcing runs to the outside.
That all changed in 2020. Williams’ YPC increased by 20%, yards after first contact per attempt (YAC/Att) by 49% with Inside Zone blocking. Those rates include a 35% increase in YPC, 12% increase in YAC/Att, and 91% increase in TDs scored between the tackles. Let’s first look at the Inside Zone runs where Williams didn’t score. The opening play (0:00) perfectly exemplifies the added agility work Williams added during his offseason his training. He’s no longer just a power back, he’s maneuverable in traffic. The chunk runs at 1:06, 2:04, and 5:16 may seem to indicate an easy button had been pushed. But these are actually telling us Williams is now allowing his blocking to carry more of the weight. Pick a gap and go. Textbook!
When “Pookie” does turn his Inside Zone runs outside the tackles — 3:30, 4:39, 5:04, and 6:03 — we can see that those interior gaps have tightened, or defender/s have found a way into the UNC backfield. Those adjustments by Williams set the stage for the following plays. I count two-thirds of his 12 Inside Zone TDs, 42% of the 19 total TDs scored with Williams sticking with his intended interior gap. You can find each at 0:39, 1:21, 5:25, 6:34, 7:08, 8:41, 9:06, and 9:16. This newfound confidence will pay huge dividends in the NFL. Williams will need to run over NFL DBs if his plan were to only challenge defenses to the edges. He would’ve quickly found that NFL DBs are not as easily evaded. Some even relish in the opportunity to get physical.
Not that Williams abandoned his love for turning his Inside Zone runs to the outside. Especially when overaggressive primary/secondary contain defenders come into play. We see that on TD runs at 0:54, 3:41, 7:18, and 11:39. As mentioned, North Carolina used Outside Zone blocking at a much decreased rate. But we do have three examples at 1:54, 3:06, 6:58. For a back that accumulated nearly 60% of his UNC career rushing yards off the edges, it blows my mind he did so without much Outside Zone blocking. The main reasoning for that production is his work done with pulling linemen.
Even with the 20% decrease in Counter blocking, Williams increased his YPC by 67%, and YAC/Att by 49%. He didn’t take any into the EZ, but the Tar Heels mainly used Inside Zone blocking near the goal line, and — from what I could tell — Williams only received a single G2G handoff on Counter.
One of my favorite types of fantasy RBs are those that exhibit patience. Watching a back impatiently running into the back of his Gap blocking grinds my gears. And the patience I’m looking for means just the slightest of hesitations. Impatient RBs are strictly suited to zone blocking. For the Gap schemes, restraint is rewarded with results. Williams is one of the best because of the patience shown on Counters at 3:18, 4:29, 7:52, 9:43, 10:12, and 11:25.
Even when the Counter blocking in front of him breaks down — 6:13, 10:27, and 10:39 — that patience allows him the opportunity to adjust. And when you’ve destroyed your opponents all season with Counter blocking, you are afforded opportunities to throw some misdirection into the fold. At 10:51, we see a same-side handoff (pull direction toward the RB-side of the QB) putting Williams into space away from the flow of the defense. The opportunity allows him to showcase a solid hurdle over Keshawn Washington, running straight through Amari Carter, and spinning clean of Bradley Jennings Jr. Perhaps his finest run from a memorable season. We also have a pair of runs showing Counter blocking with a pitch in the opposite direction trickeration at 2:37 and 2:51.
My singular complaint for how Longo used Williams is simply not providing him with enough Power blocking. On 21 carries with Power during ‘21, five went for TDs. Two G2Gs with Power — 0:28 and 2:11 — two TDs. Just watch Williams slip-and-slide his way through the Georgia Tech defense at 8:18. At 4:54, we have a similar same-side handoff shown with the previous Counter misdirections, but with Power. The added space without a second pulling blocker has not gone to waste. If you are still not convinced of Williams’ Power dominance, just look at what he does on TD runs at 2:25, 5:47, and 7:37. He becomes a man possessed, almost expecting to reach the end zone.
To close out our run concept examples for Williams, we see him with same-side pull leads at 8:05 and 8:28, and with — at least the way I was taught to diagnose at PFF — “Man” blocking. The O-line is actually set up to block for Howell here before he pitches it outside to Williams for his final two scores at 5:37 and 9:58. I mentioned Williams devoted time to his route running during the offseason. He stated that he likes receiving work because “you’ve got more space.” We see those improvements with vertical work at 1:33, 4:11, 6:27, and on a TD reception at 3:54. The remaining three receiving plays shown -- 0:12, 6:47, and 8:54 -- are the same flares he ran in previous seasons.
Williams made public his desire to be drafted by the Panthers in order to remain close to home. Unless we unexpectedly see OC Joe Brady cut into Christian McCaffrey’s workload, Carolina wouldn’t be the best of landing spots for Williams. The Texans and Cardinals make a lot of sense. But the best fits would be the Broncos or Steelers. Both utilize a ton of Power blocking — top-five rates last season — and use enough Inside Zone and Counter blocking to enable Williams to do what he does best. But Williams might be good enough to overcome those restrictions.
Williams already has the size to be a three-down back. His biggest question marks are actually his developing skills as a receiver and in pass protection. Both are entirely common in RBs, especially those that leave school early. But don’t assume those question marks discount Williams’ upside. The player whom I keep coming back to in comparison to Williams is Nick Chubb.
We have no way of knowing if Williams’ athletic profile will match Chubb’s 2018 Combine explosion (38.5-inch vertical) or agility (4.25 short shuttle, 7.09 second 3-cone). But I still see the lower body strength as an identical match. Chubb has also been the league’s top back with Power blocking since he joined the NFL three seasons ago. Chubb has also developed his receiving and pass protection skills on the job, areas he’s improved upon each season. It’s a glowing comp for an outstanding talent.
The Bottom Line
When you take a back with Williams’ plus footwork, balance, explosion, and size-adjusted speed and add in the patience to allow his Gap blocking to develop, you are left with a truly dangerous threat. Even better, those traits translate as a receiver. He’s one of the best at attacking off the edges with those lethal one-cuts to the outside with Inside Zone blocking, patient assaults with Power and Counter blocking. We are truly blessed with an absolutely stacked class at RB this season. Even with Williams’ outstanding outside work, the best in this class remains Najee Harris. The best with Inside Zone blocking remains Travis Etienne. The best with Counter blocking remains Trey Sermon. But Williams is, by far, the best with Power blocking leading his path.
The difference between the Harris/Etienne tier and the Sermon/Williams tier is really not that significant. We’re truly splitting hairs. Draft location will ultimately decide the dynasty value. But Harris and Etienne are not landing spot-dependent. Sermon and Williams might be. That’s enough to expect the latter pair to be selected around 32 picks later. But do not confuse that with an expectation of potential. All four carry nearly identical upside. That’s how good these kids can be. I also have my eyes on two other backs with the potential for future three-down roles. But they will be entirely landing spot-dependent.
Williams is a hungry, chip-on-his-shoulder RB with the mindset of a LB. He feeds on contact and needs to take a few hits to feel alive. He’s also a guy who does better work on each subsequent carry. He also displayed some improvements to his receiving and pass protection fundamentals during his final season. Losing out on those phases of the offense would significantly slice into his fantasy value. I’ve made it known that I have Sermon and Williams neck-and-neck, with Sermon slightly ahead. Sermon’s pass blocking is second-to-none in this RB class, and offers an identical receiving skillset to Williams.’ But make sure you decide between the two for yourself. As it stands, sans Superflex formats, I have Sermon at No. 7 (RB3) on my Dyno big board, directly followed by Williams (RB4).