The San Francisco 49ers fourth round pick from 2017 was someone that Kyle Shanahan wanted and had to fight for. Running back Joe Williams wasn’t originally on the draft board because he had stepped away from football at one point to get mentally healthy after the death of his sister. “Quitting” football is a red flag for John Lynch but Shanahan convinced him otherwise. The excitement for his pro career was stifled when the running back was put on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
When asked about Williams’ status Shanahan quickly said that after his year off, Williams had a lot to prove. They do think he’s talented and want to see him more but added a very strong quote:
Nothing is given here. We have a lot of good backs.
Shanahan noted that he fought though some injuries which appeared to be a compliment but then added that he thought Williams showed his ability better in games than in practice which could be taken as a criticism. Shanahan continued by mentioning Matt Breida who “had a heck of a year” and was a undrafted free agent, the addition of Jerick McKinnon and Raheem Mostert who played special teams at a high level.
You gotta have a role here on this team and Joe has the ability to do that with us and I hope that he does but he’s going to have some competition this year to do it.
He’s gotta beat guys out and to beat guys out you gotta be better than them. You gotta be better than them at running the ball and better than them at protecting it, and if you’re not, you gotta be better than them at special teams. So you end up keeping three sometimes four running backs and it’s going to be a fun competition to watch this year.
What stood out on film to Shanahan from Williams’ days at Utah?
When he had a lane he had the ability to score. He had the ability to make the one guy left miss. There’s different types of skill sets that guys have and there isn’t one specific kind that we’re looking for but what is nice that Joe has is if you do block it right and there’s a lane, he’s got the burst, the 40 time, the 10 time coming out of his start, the leg strength to run through arm tackles. He can hit it and be gone very similar to what Tevin Coleman was to us in Atlanta but totally different from what Devonta Freeman is. So there’s lots of ways that guys can play. Joe has that skill set and the burst where you can see why he was 7 yards per carry.
Last year’s preseason stats for Williams were inconsistent by week:
- 7 carries 60 yards 8.6 average 1 fumble
- 1 carry 1 yard 1.0 average
- 7 carries 16 yards 2.3 average
- 10 carries 53 yards 5.3 average 2 fumbles
Williams will have a chance, but he could have an uphill battle in his second year. While Shanahan maintains that everyone needs to prove themselves every season, the three running backs already on the roster have good a good history with their previous performances. Williams is starting from the ground level.
We’ll see this year. Joe was a good guy for us last year, I have no problem with the person, he did everything we asked. I expect him to turn up his urgency this year. I’ve talked to him about that. He says he has. Looking forward to seeing it.