Joe Williams was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft as a possible feature bell cow with serious potential. Many wondered if then-49ers feature back Carlos Hyde’s days were numbered. Now just one year later, Hyde is gone, Jerick McKinnon got paid a bunch of cash to be the feature back, and Joe Williams is fighting for a roster spot.
You don’t see that happen very much with someone taken in the fourth round. At least in one year.
Joe Williams had his highs and lows in 2017’s preseason, but that’s really all we can get on him at this point. He was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury and never played a snap in the regular season.
And that’s where we are now. All we have to go on is Joe Williams preseason tape and it’s either rookie-ish, or underwhelming depending on who you talk to. He does fit Kyle Shanahan’s system on paper, but given that the 49ers just invested in Jerick McKinnon, and Matt Breida is no slouch, Williams has his work cut out for him.
Age: 24 (25 on September 4)
Experience: IRed his rookie season.
Weight: 205 pounds
Is on year two of his four-year rookie deal. He has a base salary of $480,000, with his prorated signing bonus of $157,346 to total a cap hit of $637,346.
Why he might improve in 2018
Williams dealt with a nasty ankle injury, but what we saw before he was stashed on IR wasn’t inspiring. The biggest issue can be pinpointed to rookie mistakes and the speed of the game. Too many times he’d get bottled up or sniffed out on a run. Those few times that he found a lane or got around the line were something special. He also will have worked on some of his ball control skills as he had some muffed pitches as well—can’t do that. It’s a lot of little things that held Joe Williams down, but the talent is there. If he can put all those little nuances behind him, he could get himself onto a three-headed beast.
Why he might regress in 2018
Like we said, we saw Williams in the 2017 preseason and what we saw wasn’t looking too hot. Williams was soundly beaten by Matt Breida in training camp—an undrafted free agent. Raheem Mostert is another running back who brings special teams value with him and played light years better than Williams. Williams would have some great plays blanketed by an absolute lack of production whenever he was called upon for the ball. It might just be an early indication that Williams is a bust. He hasn’t done much to really illuminate his stock. It certainly doesn’t help that the 49ers invested in McKinnon rather than have confidence that Williams can bring it all together.
Odds of making the roster
Given his spot in the draft, Williams has a straight 50/50 shot at making the roster. He’s no doubt on the 90, but he may get cut leading up to the 53 man. It’s obvious that he’s beneath McKinnon and Breida, but maybe he can beat Mostert out for that third back and make a nice three-headed beast for the 49ers.
He hasn’t shown anything where it’d be a safe bet on it though.