NFL Draft

North Carolina RB Javonte Williams Believes Pass Protection Helps Separate Him As Draft’s Top Back

We can talk about Javonte Williams as a runner. We can talk about Javonte Williams as a receiver. Both those traits are critical to his college success and the reason why he’ll be one of the first backs off the board next month. But the elite backs like Williams aspires to be also have to be able to block. And throughout his college career, Williams believes he’s made big strides there.

Williams spoke to his improvement in pass pro during his pre Pro Day press conference Friday afternoon. In fact, he says that was the biggest stride he made during his time at North Carolina.

“I definitely say pass protecting and just like knowing who to block and knowing how to block,” he said. “Because coming from high school, all we do was run the ball. We ran the Wing T. So my quarterback at the end of his senior year, he probably only had like 50 yards. So I didn’t know anything about pass protection or anything like that. So coming here, I feel like that was my biggest reason I didn’t play as a freshman, just not knowing who to block or anything about pass protection. So I feel like that’s something I had to work on.”

Williams broke into the lineup and he starred in college, forming a dynamic duo between himself and Michael Carter Jr. In 2020, Williams averaged over seven yards per carry and found the end zone a total of 22 times. He helped transform the Tar Heels from a 2-9, basketball school his freshman season to an 8-4, Orange Bowl-contending club by the end of his career.

Pittsburgh is still one of the few teams that uses a feature, every-down back. Part of what Le’Veon Bell and when healthy, James Conner, so effective was their pass protection. Bell was regarded as one of football’s best in that role while Conner’s pass protection was one of his biggest areas of improvement from rookie to sophomore season.

For Williams, he’s spent plenty of time in the pre-draft process refining himself as a blocker. The art of being a sturdy pass protector is one-part desire, one-part technique .

“It’s a balance of both. Because I mean you can want to but you might not know how to. And then you know how to, but it might not work every time [if you don’t have effort]. So honestly I feel like just being balanced and just keeping your shoulders square and having good technique. I feel like that all comes with being in a good pass protector and I feel like I’m a great pass protector.”

It’s one reason why he said he is the top back in this class. The Steelers seem likely to come away with one of the top three at the position; Alabama’s Najee Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, or Williams. Whoever they take will likely become an immediate starter. Their goal will be to revive the league’s worst rushing attack. But to do that, and to stay on the field, they’ll have to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright, too. Javonte Williams is ready to embrace that challenge.

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