2021 NFL draft: UNC's Javonte Williams is a tackle-breaking machine

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Eric Edholm
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Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw | 20. RB Najee Harris | 19. LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | 18. EDGE Jaelan Phillips | 17. OT Teven Jenkins | 16. EDGE Kwity Paye | 15. CB Jaycee Horn | 14. OT-OG Rashawn Slater | 13. OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | 12. WR DeVonta Smith | 11. EDGE Azeez Ojulari | 10. CB Patrick Surtain II | 9. OT Penei Sewell | 8. QB Zach Wilson | 7. LB Micah Parsons | 6. QB Trey Lance | 5. WR Jaylen Waddle | 4. QB Justin Fields | 3. WR Ja'Marr Chase | 2. TE Kyle Pitts | 1. QB Trevor Lawrence

Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

27. North Carolina RB Javonte Williams

5-foot-10, 212 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.01 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Tank-like back who barrels through tackle attempts but needs more polish on third downs

Games watched: Syracuse (2020), Boston College (2020), Florida State (2020), Miami (2020)

The skinny: A 2-star Rivals recruit, Javonte “Pookie” Williams switched from linebacker to running back his senior season of high school and accepted a last-minute offer from UNC. He played in all 11 games as a true freshman, running 43 times for 224 yards with five TDs; catching eight passes for 58 yards; and making six tackles on special teams. In 2019, Williams ran 166 times for 933 yards and five scores and caught 17 passes for 176 yards and a TD in 13 games (one start). 

In 2020, he teamed with Michael Carter as one of the best 1-2 duos in recent years, rushing 157 times for 1,140 yards with 19 TDs and caught 25 passes for 305 yards with three TDs in 11 games (one start). 

After being named second-team AP All-America and second-team all-ACC, Williams opted out of the Tar Heels’ bowl game and declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Compactly built tank of a back. Huge pistons for legs. Ample body armor to handle increased load. Great core strength and pop in his pads.

Overall strong athletic profile. Good short-area quickness — strong times in the 3-cone drill (6.93 seconds) and short shuttle (4.09 seconds). Explosiveness borne out in vertical (36 inches) and broad jumps (123 inches). Nice bench-press total (22 reps).

Absurd contact balance as a runner and receiver — one of the best tackle breakers in college football last season. Consistently makes the first man miss and can create yards beyond what the play is blocked for. Will drive through ankle-tackle attempts or simply plow through defenders like this pancake vs. FSU:

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Has workhorse potential in the NFL after sharing duties in college. Only seemed strong the more carries he received — averaged 7.4 yards per rush in games with 18-plus attempts (5.6-yard average in games with 17 or fewer rushes). Plenty of tread left on his tires — only 416 college touches in three seasons. Fresh legs ready to churn. Turns 21 years old the week of the draft.

Effective on both man and zone runs. Finishes with violent intentions — tremendous stiff arm to ward off defenders. First-down machine who runs with a low center of gravity and always seems to be falling forward. Rarely stops his legs from churning after initial contact. Also very light on his feet with underrated shimmy ability.

Strong production in smaller sample size — career averages of 6.2 (rush) and 10.6 (receiving) and 33 TDs in 34 career games. Averaged two TDs per game in 2020. Five career 100-plus rushing games with fewer than 20 carries. Improved ball security — only two fumbles over his final 287 touches.

Expanded his arsenal as a receiver in 2020 — used mainly on screens and swing passes but also was targeted on stops, seam, option and wheel routes. Split out wide and ran a stutter-go vs. BC, drawing a long pass-interference flag. Looked more natural running routes and catching the ball in 2020.

Stood out on special teams as a freshman. Worked on “hands team” and recovered onside kick vs. Wake Forest. Linebacker instincts serve him well — made two tackles after turnovers vs. Duke in 2019 and even forced a fumble after an INT.

Considered very smart, humble, passionate and driven. Former high-school valedictorian who maintains his hunger after being roundly overlooked as a recruit.

Downside: Possesses only ordinary straight-line speed (4.55-second 40-yard dash) and burst (1.60-second 10-yard split). Won’t outrun DBs to daylight — more of a doubles hitter than home-run power. Limited length on his frame — 30 7/8-inch arms and 74 7/8-inch wingspan. Will make it tougher to haul in passes and pick up blitzers.

Not as effective as an outside-zone runner — doesn’t quite have the burst necessary to be featured as a one-cut back in space. A little tight in the hips to hit the corner. Stuffed on some short-yardage plunges. Bottled up as a runner in 2020 vs. Virginia and Notre Dame.

Run vision can be hit or miss — can fail to find daylight at times. Guilty of running into tacklers’ paths or running up his blockers’ backs at times. Tries to bounce runs outside when they’re not there.

Third-down skills still developing. Pass protection still can be shaky (see Boston College game) — doesn’t always ID the free rusher and can take poor blocking angles. Can fire his hands wildly against oncoming blitzers. Guilty of dropping the occasional easy pass, including a big one on fourth down to end potential comeback vs. FSU. Three penalties in 2020, including two false starts.

Not a proven workhorse yet — only four career games with 20-plus carries. Only two career starts. Violent run style could make him an injury candidate and end up shortening his career.

Best-suited destination: We believe Williams is a better pro prospect than Carter, possessing three-down ability once he harnesses his receiving and pass-protection skills a bit better. He can act as a lead back in a run game that prioritizes power and inside zone and has the tackle-breaking ability to become a very reliable option and a fan favorite.

Did you know: Williams was a high-school standout in football (winning four straight state titles), in track (he won the 2016 state title in the 4x100 relay) and also as a student (class valedictorian with a 4.6 GPA) at Wallace-Rose Hill (N.C.) High School.

But when the small-school standout wasn’t getting the recruiting attention he desired — especially from UNC, his favorite team growing up — Williams briefly considered quitting football. In fact, he nearly enrolled as a student at UNC anyway, even thorough the Tar Heels didn’t initially offer him.

Following his final high-school game, however, when Williams (207 rushing yards, two TDs) was named MVP of the 2017 2A state championship game, he received a scholarship offer from UNC the very next day.

“It was like the world was lifted off my shoulders,” he told The News & Observer.

Player comp: I see a lot of Nick Chubb in Williams’ game, even if he might not be quite as fast. Josh Jacobs is another fair style comp.

Expected draft range: Round 2

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