"Our current starter (Williams) is doing extremely well," Payton told reporters Saturday during Denver's rookie minicamp. "I would tell you that we expect him to be ready for the start of training camp and that's good news. His rehab is going well. I don't want to speak for him or (vice president of player health and performance) Beau (Lowery) or anyone else, but we get the daily reports. We're pretty tight-lipped relative to information going out, but I've read a lot and I think his rehab is going well."
The tenor of Payton's response was more positive than the cloudy timeline George Paton provided in April, when the general manager admitted the team was "not entirely sure" what point Williams would be back.
If indeed Williams is able to take the field for a full season including training camp, which remains a big "if" in neon flashing lights considering it's mid-May, it would provide a huge boost to Denver's chances at rectifying last year's 5-12 disappointment.
Williams lived up to his second-round billing out of the gate in 2021, rushing for 903 yards and four touchdowns on 203 carries. He was electric as another passing option, as well. He had 43 catches for 316 yards and three scores his rookie year.
But his encore campaign was short-lived. Denver's new-look offense behind Russell Wilson stumbled, and Williams was scoreless through the first month of the season with 280 total yards on 53 touches when he suffered a torn ACL, LCL and posterolateral corner (PLC).
He still finished the year with the team's third-highest carries (47) among running backs, as the Broncos cut Melvin Gordon in November and cycled through backfield options in the wake of Williams' injury before landing on Latavius Murray, who led the club with 703 rushing yards and is now in Buffalo.
Given how the Broncos have shaped the backfield since Payton's arrival, Williams should return as the RB1 regardless of if that occurs before training camp, which would keep him off the physically unable to perform list, or sometime after.
"I think there's a good chance that -- if a player is not ready at the start of training camp, he goes to PUP," Payton said. "We're hopeful that he is someone that might not have to go to PUP. So that's good news and in the meantime, the rest of these guys we're looking at closely. I'm getting to know them."
The rest of the RB room behind Williams is currently comprised of Tyler Badie, Damarea Crockett, Tony Jones and Samaje Perine, a free-agent addition who appears to be the next man in the pecking order after flashing potential as a backup with the Bengals the past three years.
"I feel really good about our group of veterans that are here in the building," Payton said. "When we signed Samaje, this is a guy that gave us flexibility. We know that he can play and be an every-down back."
Payton is excited about his stable of backs as a whole. The group will be even more dangerous whenever Williams joins them at full strength.