• Joe Broback

Javonte Williams: North Carolina's underrated superstar

Unless you were a North Carolina fan or a coach that's scouted the Tar Heels, Javonte Williams might have been considered the sixth best player on the team. Overlooked and underrated are titles he's familiar with, but Williams is on a mission to prove everyone wrong. In more ways than one. Fate brought him to North Carolina, and he's taken care of the rest, gaining the attention of NFL scouts and all of college football.

It's almost a miracle that Williams is playing in the baby blue. As the No. 1476 overall player in the 2017 class and the No. 94-ranked running back according to 247Sports, there weren't many FBS teams even looking at Williams out of high school. If not for Wallace-Rose High School playing in the state championship game at Kenan Memorial Stadium, then head coach Larry Fedora wouldn't even know Williams' name. The story is that after the game, Fedora offered to have Williams take his visit then and there. One game. That's all it took for North Carolina's star running back to get noticed, so we shouldn't be surprised that he's playing at such a high level.

When I first learned that Williams was quiet, I was floored. Not because quiet kids can't play physical, but it's just another thing to like about him. He might not talk much, but his pads do that for him. In fact, he's quite loud when his pads do the talking.

Every team the Tar Heels faced this year felt the physical play of Williams. Florida State felt it two weeks ago. North Carolina State felt it last week. Those kinds of plays aren't new, and Williams claims he never thinks about it.

"I really think it’s just low pads. We preach that at practice every day — keep your pads low," Williams said after the NC State game. "That is something I always try to do when I run the ball, stay low into the defender, and it usually helps me bounce off... I love to juke but the running over just happens."

If you pull up Williams' recruiting profile, you'll notice an absence of many teams interested in him out of high school. If not for Fedora giving him a chance after one game, Williams might not even be playing football. Every team he plays is a reminder of how not many saw his potential, and each game is another opportunity to prove them wrong.

Normally, players seeking revenge just want to run through everyone, but Williams is taking another approach. He's evolving his game into an NFL prospect in front of our eyes, but still staying true to himself. With Michael Carter providing the speed and agility at the position, Williams brought a physical style of running to the offense this year. What many didn't see was the work he put in this offseason on other aspects of his game.

Speed is the first aspect. Williams has already stated that he's not always looking to run someone over, something that will lengthen his playing career at the next level. That versatility will help his draft stock as well. Then there's the receiving part of his game, but it's not just about catching the football.

Sure, there's this ridiculous catch against Florida State.

Not many running backs are comfortable making that kind of play, but he's proving his versatility every week. Entering this year, Williams had a total of 25 catches for 234 yards (9.4 ypc) and one touchdown. Through the Tar Heels five games thus far, he's caught nine passes for 200 yards (22.2 ypc) and two touchdowns. It's evident that his hands improved over the offseason, and that North Carolina is comfortable looking his direction. This includes routes beyond the line of scrimmage.

When I first saw this play, it seemed like just another big play by Williams, so business as usual. However, when I went back and watched the film again, it became evident that he displayed an awareness that we haven't seen before. His route is supposed to take him across the field, but pressure on Sam Howell forces Howell to step up in the pocket. Most backs don't full understand what to do in that situation, but Williams showed an understanding of how to adjust. After noticing Howell needed to run, Williams found space vertically behind the linebacker. With the safety coming upfield to attack Howell, he was by himself. If you think about how terrifying Williams is when he's running the ball against defensive linemen and linebackers, think of how much worse it gets against defensive backs much smaller than him. Well, we saw what happens, but let's see it again.

After watching Javonte Williams play in 2019, it quickly became evident that he was a special talent. In a college football world with players like Travis Etienne, Chuba Hubbard, and Najee Harris, a talent like Williams goes under the radar. With how he's playing, that's clearly changed. North Carolina's offense is loaded with talent, and Williams is quickly proving that he's on that list. He might have been sixth entering the season, but now he's the best on the team. And there's not much quiet about how he got there.