Tar Heels in NFL: Top rookie rushers Williams and Steelers’ Harris to battle; Carter explains what makes his running style unique

By R.L. Bynum

When the Denver Broncos visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, it will match the NFL’s rookie rushing leaders.

Denver’s Javonte Williams leads rookies with 186 rushing yards and a 4.0 average yards per carry compared to Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris, who has 185 yards and 3.4 yards per run. Both have scored one touchdown.

The Steelers (1–3) evaluated Williams ahead of the draft but took Harris, the former Alabama star, with the 24th pick of the first round. That allowed Denver (3–1) to snag the hard-to-bring-down Williams with the 35th pick in the first round.

“We’re very familiar with Williams,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We were in the market for ‘A’ runners in this past draft and so [we’re] really familiar with him, really impressed with his skill set. He’s displaying the things in the league that he displayed at Carolina.

“He’s got great leg drive and contact balance,” Tomlin said. “He’s a tough tackle. He has a small hit surface. Not a small guy, but a small hit surface and I think that’s what allows him to run through some tackles and maintain that body balance and produce some of the runs that you’ve seen not only on Sundays but prior to that on Saturdays.”

Melvin Gordon III continues to be Denver’s starting running back and get more carries. Through four games, Gordon has 51 rushes for 248 yards and a 6.2 average per carry compared to 46 carries for Williams.

People are still marveling about Williams’ 31-yard run against Baltimore, when he eluded several tacklers and seemingly dragged Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey nearly 18 yards. Most wondered how he did it.

How did Williams explain it?

“On the run, I think he tried to go for the ball instead of trying to tackle me and he was on my back as I went by,” Williams said.

Pittsburgh defensive end Cameron Heyward said that Williams’ run reminded him of another player.

“That run he had, it was pretty special,” Heyward said. “He broke like five tackles, reminded me of the old Maurice Jones-Drew, breaking tackles, bouncing off people.”

Williams’ former UNC teammate Michael Carter takes his running game to London as his New York Jets face the Atlanta Falcons in a battle of 1–3 teams at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The 9:30 a.m. Sunday (2:30 p.m. in London) game airs on NFL Network. The Falcons are 3.5-point favorites.

Carter scored on a two-yard touchdown run in Sunday’s 27–24 home win over the Tennessee Titans. That opportunity likely would have gone to Williams last season since he was the Tar Heels’ go-to short-yardage running back.

“In college, when we got down to the goal line, they took me out,” Carter said on “The Official Jets Podcast” (starting at 20:14). “My coach was always like, ‘Mike, you’re a home-run hitter, but if you get down to that 5, to that 1, you’re coming out.’ So, that just motivated me to have longer runs. The NFL’s a different game. I was still there at the 1-yard line so I said, ‘I got to get in; I got to get in!’ ”

Carter got into the end zone for the first time in his short NFL career, thanks to some helpful pushes from left tackle George Fant, center Connor McGovern and tight end Trevon Wesco.

“The play was just a little inside zone,” said Carter, who is the Jets’ starter at running back and leads them with 37 carries for 127 yards. “I got what I could get, then my teammates helped me with the rest of it. It started with George, then Connor came over and Wesco. He really rocked me, gave me a good push.”

The Jets are discovering that Carter has a valuable skill set. He was asked what makes him unique.

“I think, for me, it would probably be my short hair and quickness and vision,” Carter said in a team social-media video with his usual infectious smile. “I think Barry Sanders said it … he said some players can see the hole, but they can’t get to it and then some players can get to it but can’t see it. So, I pride myself on trying to hit the hole.”

Carter says that he’s faced quite a learning curve in the NFL.

“For me, it’s just been the consistency of the game and the small details that it takes to even be good in this league, let alone be great,” Carter said. “We’re facing greatness every day. And so, the little things are going to add up.”

The Jets arrived in London on Friday morning and practiced Friday afternoon.

Carter won’t be the last Tar Heel to head to London this season. Mack Hollins and the Miami Dolphins face the Jacksonville Jaguars one week later in the same stadium.

Running back Giovani Bernard is listed as questionable for the home game for Tampa Bay (3–1) with Miami (1–3) with a knee injury that forced him to miss their Sunday night win at New England. He participated in practice Wednesday and Thursday on a limited basis but was a full participant in practice on Friday.

Wide receiver Dyami Brown suffered a knee injury in Washington’s win at Atlanta and, after he wasn’t at practice Wednesday or Thursday, was declared out for the Sunday home for Washington (2–2) against New Orleans (2–2).

His teammate, linebacker Cole Holcomb, hurt his shoulder during the Atlanta game but returned later in the game. He was working on the side field with strength coaches during Wednesday practice. He practiced on a limited basis on Thursday. Holcomb is fifth in the league in total tackles with 25 tackles and 16 assists.

Dazz Newsome has spent the season on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad. It’s probably not good news for his chances to be activated that they acquired wide receiver Jakeem Grant from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round pick. It is good news, though, that it was wide receiver/return specialist Nsimba Webster who was waived to make room for Grant.

Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back
Questionable for game vs. Miami, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS (WNCN in Triangle)
Season statistics — 3 games, 13 catches, 79 yards (6.1 average, longest 32 yards), 1 touchdown, 1 fumble
Dyami Brown, Washington wide receiver
Out for game vs. New Orleans, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Season statistics — 4 games, 5 receptions on 14 targets, 51 yards (10.2 average, longest 22 yards); 1 rush for -4 yards
Michael Carter, New York Jets running back
vs. Atlanta in London, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, NFL Network
Season statistics — 4 games, 37 carries, 127 yards (3.4 average, longest 14 yards); 6 receptions, 44 yards
Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end
vs. Denver, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Season statistics — 4 games, 3 reception, 27 yards (9.0 average, longest 19)
Charlie Heck, Houston Texans right tackle
vs. New England, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Season statistics — 2 games, no starts; 2 offensive snaps; 6 special-teams snaps
Cole Holcomb, Washington outside linebacker
vs. New Orleans, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Season statistics — 4 games, 25 tackles, 16 assists, 2 tackles for losses, 1 forced fumble
Mack Hollins, Miami Dolphins wide receiver
at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS (WNCN in Triangle)
Season statistics — 4 games, no statistics
James Hurst, New Orleans Saints left tackle
at Washington, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Season statistics — 4 games; 81 offensive snaps, 13 special-teams snaps
Robert Quinn, Chicago Bears outside linebacker
at Los Angeles Raiders, 4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Season statistics — 4 games, 9 tackles, 3 assists, 5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, 2 QB hits, 1 forced fumble
Andre Smith, Buffalo Bills weakside linebacker
at Kansas City, 8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC (WRAL in Triangle)
Season statistics — 2 games, 2 special-teams tackles, 1 special-teams assist
M.J. Stewart Jr., Cleveland Browns strong safety
at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Season statistics — 4 games, 8 tackles, 3 assists, 2 special-teams tackle
Chazz Surratt, Minnesota Vikings weakside linebacker
vs. Detroit, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Season statistics — 3 games, no statistics
Mitchell Trubisky, Buffalo Bills quarterback
at Kansas City, 8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC (WRAL in Triangle)
Season statistics — 2 games; 2 of 2 passing for 9 yards (longest 8); 10 rushes for 27 yards (longest 22), 85.4 passer rating
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos running back
at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Season statistics — 4 games, 46 carries, 186 yards (4.0 average; longest 31 yards), 1 TD; 8 catches, 50 yards (6.28 average, longest 17 yards)
Tar Heels on practice squads
Jake Bargas, Minnesota Vikings fullback
Myles Dorn, Minnesota Vikings safety (played 10 special-teams snaps on Week 2)
Dazz Newsome, Chicago Bears wide receiver
Antonio Williams, Buffalo Bills running back
Injured Tar Heels
Jalen Dalton, New Orleans Saints defensive tackle, suffered season-ending triceps injury
Ryan Switzer, Cleveland Browns wide receiver, had ankle surgery Aug. 20

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