The Broncos suffered a major blow to their already reeling offense in Week 4 when Javonte Williams went down with a knee injury.
Williams suffered the injury early in the third quarter and was quickly ruled out for the game. He was seen on crutches afterward and reports indicated that Denver feared his injury was "serious."
Indeed, it was. Williams was revealed to have suffered a torn ACL and LCL in his right knee, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Not only does #Broncos RB Javonte Williams have a torn ACL, but the MRI revealed a a torn LCL and posterior lateral corner, sources say. A significant injury and a long road back.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 3, 2022
As such, he will be out for the remainder of the season. That means that the Broncos will have to find a new top running back.
Williams had played a team-high 142 snaps at the position through four weeks of the 2022 NFL season. He led the Broncos in carries (47), rushing yards (204) and was second on the team in receptions (16) behind only Courtland Sutton.
So, how will the Broncos' running back depth chart shape up with Williams out of action? A familiar veteran will begin atop the list, but he could be on a short leash even as a part of this multi-back attack.
Broncos RB depth chart
1. Melvin Gordon
Under normal circumstances, Williams' injury would mean that Gordon would move into the No. 1 back role and take a lion's share of the carries. However, he has had his share of issues this season, and that led him to be pseudo-benched in Week 4 against the Raiders.
Gordon didn't receive his first snap or carry until there were under four minutes left in the second half. He promptly fumbled despite a 7-yard gain, and the Raiders returned it for a touchdown that gave them a 16-10 lead.
The fumble was the fourth of the season in four games for Gordon. They have come on just 45 touches, and coach Nathaniel Hackett is growing frustrated.
"In the end, you can't put the ball on the ground. I mean, that it's that simple," Hackett said after Denver's 32-23 loss. "We always say take care of the ball. That's the most important thing."
The Broncos will likely give Gordon a chance to redeem himself. However, his leash will probably be short and it could open up an opportunity for his backup to overtake him on Denver's depth chart.
2. Mike Boone
Boone played sparingly on offense in the Broncos' first three games of the 2022 NFL season, but he did see action as a third-string option behind Williams and Gordon. Now, he will move into an even bigger role, one that could match or exceed his Week 4 opportunities.
After Gordon's gaffe, Mike Boone saw the majority of the work at running back. This was true even after Williams went down with an injury. He played 19 snaps to Gordon's 10 and while they each finished with three carries, Boone was more effective than Gordon, outgaining him 20-8 on the ground.
Will Gordon's struggles be enough to earn Boone the No. 1 role in the offense? Probably not; the Broncos will look to jumpstart Gordon and build up his confidence in Week 5 so that he can be the primary option in place of Williams.
Still, Boone will see an uptick in snaps. Hackett has shown a penchant for mixing up his running backs; Williams played only 54 percent of the snaps over the first four weeks. So, even if Gordon got 54 percent of the snaps or more, there would still be plenty of opportunities available for Boone.
Besides, it's not like Boone is a slouch either. The fifth-year pro has averaged 5.6 yards per carry during his career and posted 49 carries, 273 yards and three touchdowns with the Vikings in 2019, all of which are career-best marks. So, with an increased opportunity, the 27-year-old should produce.
3. Devine Ozigbo
Ozigbo will be the next man up for the Broncos on Thursday night. However, he won't be the long-term No. 3 back after the Broncos added a veteran to their 53-man roster to replace Williams.
However, that veteran won't be ready to play for his new team on a short turnaround. More on him later. For now, Ozigbo will get a chance to be on Denver's game-day roster and will likely be active as the No. 3 back.
The 26-year-old Ozigbo signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and is now with his fourth different NFL team. He spent time with the Saints (three stints), Jaguars (two stints) and Patriots (one stint) before the Broncos claimed him off waivers on Aug. 22, 2022.
Ozigbo hasn't logged much NFL action over his career and has been better as a receiver than a running back. He has 13 career catches for 72 yards and 25 rushing yards on 11 carries. Most of that came in 2019 and 2020 with the Jaguars.
But now, after being called up from the practice squad, it seems like he will get a chance to play, though it might be sparingly.
4. Latavius Murray
The Broncos carried just three running backs on their 53-man roster to start the season, so when Williams went down, they had just two healthy players available at the position.
The Broncos changed that by adding Latavius Murray to the fold. They signed him off the Saints' practice squad and will likely make him their No. 3 running back once he is up to speed in the offense.
Murray won't play in Week 5 as a result of his quick turnaround. He just played in London for the Saints and would have had to play in Denver on a short week just days after signing. That didn't seem appealing, so he will be inactive on Thursday night while preparing to play in Week 6 against the Chargers.
Murray was a sixth-round pick by the Raiders in the 2013 NFL Draft and is now in his 10th NFL season. The 32-year-old made the Pro Bowl in 2015 after logging 1,066 rushing yards and has averaged 187 carries, 767 yards and seven touchdowns per 17 games played. He generated 57 yards and a touchdown for the Saints on 11 carries in their London loss to the Vikings, so clearly, he still has something left in the tank.
Murray will provide the Broncos with some depth and size at the running back position. The 6-3, 230-pound back could be used as a goal-line hammer and provides experienced insurance in case Gordon's fumble problems continue and Boone can't shoulder a full workload.
Either way, Murray should find a way to work into the backfield rotation. It just won't happen this week.