Audric Estime

Getty Notre Dame running back Audric Estime.

The Denver Broncos are in desperate need of someone — anyone — to provide a lift to their ground game, where they haven’t had a player run for over 1,000 rushing yards since Phillip Lindsay in 2019.

That’s why the running back position seems almost entirely up for grabs in 2024, and Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox has rookie Audric Estime pegged as one of the most underrated additions in the entire NFL headed into the season. The Broncos selected Estime in the fifth round (No. 147 overall) out of Notre Dame.

Estime also has the opportunity to quietly go about his business in earning carries with the bulk of the attention around the Broncos focused on a three-way battle at quarterback between Jarrett Stidham, Zach Wilson and 2024 No. 12 overall pick Bo Nix.

“Fifth-round running back Audric Estime is unlikely to get nearly as much attention this summer. However, he could play a very important role as a rookie in 2024,” Knox wrote. “Regardless of which quarterback earns the Week 1 job, Denver needs to support him with a strong running game. The Broncos’ receiving corps lacks a top-end receiver and few dependable targets after Courtland Sutton.”

Estime, who won’t turn 21 years old until September, played three seasons at Notre Dame and had 1,055 yards of total offense — 920 rushing and 125 receiving — with 12 touchdowns in 2022. He had another big year in 2023 with 1,341 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Broncos Have Unproven Options at Running Back

The Broncos return their top two leading rushers from 2023 but neither has shown the ability to be a top option at running back.

Javonte Williams led the Broncos with 774 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns but averaged an anemic 3.6 yards per carry. Jaleel McLaughlin showed flashes as a rookie after making the team as an undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State, rushing for 410 yards and 1 touchdown while averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

McLaughlin also had 31 receptions for 160 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns but at 5-foot-7 and 187 pounds doesn’t seem like a viable option as an every-down type of running back.

“Unfortunately, Denver also struggled to field a consistent ground game in 2023,” Knox wrote. “Javonte Williams, coming off a torn ACL, only showed glimpses of his pre-injury form. While Jaleel McLaughlin emerged as an explosive role player (5.4 yards per carry), the Broncos ranked 21st in yards per carry as a team.”

Estime and Williams Could Combine to be Formidable Duo

Etime and Williams are similar running backs in terms of size and power — Estime is 5-foot-11 and 221 pounds while Williams is 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds.

Estime’s draft stock may have slipped because of a slow 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine, where he clocked in at 4.71 seconds but he can handle a heavy workload, with 210 carries for the Irish in 2023.

“Thickly muscled runner capable of wearing out defenses through a heavier workload,” wrote NFL analyst Lance Zierlein in his pre-draft evaluation of Estime. ” … He’s naturally powerful with adequate foot agility. Estimé doesn’t have the bend to be a one-cut runner but can make reactive cuts to sudden tacklers near the line of scrimmage. If he can hit the gas with a heavier foot, he’ll continue to break tackles and maximize yardage after contact. He’s a better weapon out of the backfield than he might get credit for being, and he could check into the league as part of a two-headed running attack with the ability to shine near the goal line.”

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