San Francisco’s 4th round pick, running back Joe Williams, almost wasn’t a 49er because of the unique background that is his past. General manager John Lynch had removed him from the draft board because for a time, Williams walked away from football. What Lynch didn’t know was why the running back had stepped away and the true passion that the Utah running back has for the game.
Williams always had the goal of playing in the NFL, even during his month long hiatus from the game when he was a student at Utah. He had potential plans to coach high school football and return to playing at some point in the future. Even a little older and maybe a few pounds heavier he knew his path would include the NFL, even if it would be a more challenging path after taking a break.
Williams was someone who head coach Kyle Shanahan had his eyes on enough that he went to bat for the running back to everyone including Lynch. The GM was swayed and the rest is history. Williams knew that it wasn’t just the 49ers who he would need to convince about his passion for football. He poured his heart out at every combine meeting with team personnel. He was open and up front with anyone who inquired about his background. Ultimately, baring his soul paid off for the running back.
Williams also opened up to the local bay area writers both in his post draft conference call and rookie minicamp interview. He explained why he had to leave Connecticut after a credit card fraud incident that involved using a teammates credit card to purchase a largely discounted backpack. The teammate used Williams’ name and address for the purchase so all ties led back to him although others were involved. Williams said it was a lesson that taught him to ask more questions and that he didn’t know everything at his young age.
Williams also explained in depth how the guilt he harbored from the death of his sister made it necessary for him to step away from the game when he was at Utah. He always felt that if he had called 911 earlier, she may have survived. Someone who knew about the story and kept in steady contact with Williams prior to the draft was running backs coach Bobby Turner. They would either talk or text 1-2 times a week. Williams referred to Turner as an “uncle” that reminded him of John Witherspoon’s character from the movie Friday.
Even with all of the contact with Turner, and Shanahan’s campaigning, Lynch had a 20 minute conversation with Williams before making the call on day three of the draft. He explained to the former safety that his passion to play in the NFL never wavered but his mental health had to be a priority. Not only did it help him heal regarding his family tragedy but it helped him become a better player, being able to focus on the task at hand: success as a running back in the NFL for the 49ers.