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Broncos GM George Paton: RB Javonte Williams (ACL) still on track to play during 2023 season

With the running back depth chart still in flux after multiple free-agent departures, the Broncos announced a positive development in the injury rehab of one of their young stars.

Speaking at the Broncos' pre-draft press conference Thursday, general manager George Paton said that Javonte Williams' recovery timeline from a knee injury still has him on track to return at some point in 2023.

"Javonte is doing really well in his rehab," Paton said. "We don't have a date, but we feel good, we feel good that he'll be back this season. We're not entirely sure when. He's progressing very well."

Williams tore multiple ligaments in his knee just four weeks into the 2022 season, limiting his playing time to just 47 rushes for 204 yards, one season removed from a rookie year where he recorded 903 rushing yards.

Williams is the only Broncos running back that had at least 200 yards in 2022 who is slated to return for the upcoming season, and considering that even Paton's optimistic estimate still has him potentially missing multiple weeks of the season, Denver has already started making moves to fortify the running backs room. Namely, the Broncos acquired Samaje Perine, who had 394 yards with the Bengals as the No. 2 to Joe Mixon last season. Perine can expect to act as RB No. 1 while Williams recovers, and said last month that he thinks the pair can be a "dangerous" duo once they're both available.

But while that will help, there's still the possibility that the Broncos would want to add another back to the roster before the season kicks off. While that could be done by acquiring another veteran free agent, Paton said that the Broncos are not excluding running back prospects from their draft boards, and that if the right opportunity comes up, they would gladly add to the position.

"Like all of the positions … if there's a runner there -- no matter what point of the draft -- and he's the best player on our board, we'll take a running back, that's for sure," Paton said. "Like I said earlier with free agency, we addressed enough needs where we can take the best players throughout the draft. We do not need to reach."

Head coach Sean Payton seconded his GM's reference to the role that free agency moves have in creating options during the draft process, recalling a similar situation from when he was with Saints. New Orleans drafted running back Alvin Kamara in 2017 when the situation presented itself, despite having other options at the position.

"Even in New Orleans, we were discussing this scenario where] we had [Mark Ingram and we had just signed Adrian Peterson. We felt like with the top two guys, we were in a good position. Then Kamara fell. We traded back into it and drafted Alvin," Payton said. "Those are value decisions. That's the significance of the free agency process, and George alluded to it a little bit. You're hoping that you free yourself up a little bit to give yourself more flexibility in the draft so you're not taking the toaster over the double oven."

That move clearly worked out for the Saints, and now Payton and his new team have under a week until they might have to decide whether to make a similar decision. Whichever way it pans out, the Broncos are likely not done adding to their RB room, even as they anticipate the eventual return of one of its stars.

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