Joe Williams’ 2018 preseason debut was rather uneventful. In his defense, the offensive line play once he got in the game was less than optimal. What I saw was a running back thinking too much behind the line of scrimmage. There were also a few carries where he was almost blatantly slowing down just to make sure he had the ball, given his previous fumble issues.
Williams has been a bit of an enigma since being drafted in the third round of the 2017 draft. Initially he was touted as the second coming of Frank Gore, only younger and faster. Then came the fumbling issues, I also read several stories last year indicating his lack of practice intensity. He was shelved out of the blue during the preseason last year. This season was set to be his breakout campaign. First, starting running back Carlos Hyde left in free agency. I’m sure Williams could taste Week 1, but then things changed. The 49ers signed Jerrick McKinnon, and Raheem Mostert came back from his MCL injury ready to compete with Williams and Matt Breida in OTAs. Add in Jeremy McNichols, and Williams’ path to the starting line up just got a lot more crowded.
Now, I’m totally “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” these clips. It’s hard to see running lanes and whatnot from the television angle, and without really knowing the exact play call and everyone’s specific assignments I can only assume. It’s easy for me to sit behind this MacBook and point out wide open lanes but, again I didn’t see a one cut running back. I saw a stutter, stutter, and go running back. Also again, the offensive line had it’s challenges as well, which may have led to a lot of his hesitation.
In our first clip, the 49ers run a stretch play to the top of the field. For these clips, the film will pause to point out things like where I thought he could’ve run, and offensive line play. The first thing you’ll notice when this play pauses is No. 62 Erik Magnuson getting pushed three yards into the backfield before Williams even gets the ball. The yellow line is there to show just how many Cowboys are behind enemy lines at the hand-off. He continues to press the stretch play waiting for a hole to open, but more and more cowboy defenders fight through blocks and smother him behind the line. I’d like to see Williams get some burn with the starters just so we can make a more accurate assessment of his ability. The line left him no where to run.
In our next clip, The 49ers go with a run to the right again. You know what else happens again? Magnuson getting worked. In this instance however that wasn’t a deal breaker, as this was more of a draw concept, so Williams had the option of taking the run anywhere. Despite the penetration, Williams had the option to cut left or right off of Magnuson on the run, thus the arrows. From what I can see, bouncing the run to the top of screen appeared to be more lucrative, but Williams chops his feet, and jumps back into the thick of the line.
This next clip is another shotgun run. There’s another offensive lineman in Williams’ face when he gets the ball. I watched this play at least 20 times trying to figure out why Williams went to the top of the screen, as opposed to taking the lane to the bottom of the field. Not sure what he saw, but I saw at least 20 yards of open field. It almost looked like someone told him no matter what, run this way.
The next clip is another shotgun run. It appears to be the same play call as the previous clip. This time he has a lot better play from the offensive line. There’s both good things and bad things in this clip. I’ll start with the bad. Williams chops his feet several times approaching the line of scrimmage, and with every chop, the defense gets closer and closer. I personally saw a wide open running lane to the top of the field, and he probably could’ve scored. The good thing I saw in this clip is Williams’ relentlessness once he’s contacted — he basically ran four yards through several Cowboy defenders and it took all of them to bring him down. He nearly scored anyway.
Our final clip is what I hope to see, and should expect to see from Williams if he gets more time with the starters. It was his best run of the night, and went for 15 yards. Running a lead to the bottom of the field, the first thing you’ll notice is no Cowboy defensive lineman. The next thing that makes this play go is Williams puts his foot in the ground and goes! There’s even a totally unblocked defender but because Williams is so sudden, he runs through the arm tackle and breaks off the long run.
All in all it was one game and a few snaps. I’m not saying that Williams should be cut or traded, I’m just saying that It didn’t help that Mostert averaged 7.1 per carry, and McNichols came in at the very end with a few runs, and looked quick. McNichols averaged 5.0 yards per carry with virtually the same offensive line that Williams struggled with. What did Williams average? 2.5 yards per carry. I’ll be watching closely over the next few weeks to see if Williams shows improvement. Go Niners!