The San Francisco 49ers made a statement on the final day of the NFL Draft when they traded up 22 spots in the fourth round to select former Utah running back Joe Williams. The 49ers saw something in Williams that made him worth gambling on. Should you do the same thing come draft time?
The Journey To The Pros
The “red flag” labeled past of Joe Williams was a key reason he was still available in the fourth round of the draft. His troubled college football journey begin when he went to the University of Connecticut, playing in only nine games before being suspended for credit card theft and illegal use which caused him to sit out in 2013.
In 2014, Willams attended ASA College where he racked up 1,093 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in just seven games. The following season he started the next chapter of his college career at Utah, only to sit behind now pro running back Devontae Booker.
The 2016 season provided another “red flag” when Williams decided to retire from football early during the season. After a handful of injuries Williams was asked to return to the program, a request he accepted and made the most of. Williams finished the 2016 season with 1,420 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games.
How Did He Land In San Francisco?
49ers general manager John Lynch has revealed that he had all but taken Joe Williams off his draft board due to his questionable past. Lynch had a change of heart after new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan continued to “pound the table” for Williams.
After numerous phone calls and countless hours of digging into the stories behind Williams’ troubles in college, the 49ers decided to roll the dice on Joe Williams.
The talent that Williams possesses is obvious. He is a great athlete with great speed and burst to match. Williams has a good combination of elusiveness and power to make defenders miss and take it to the house when he gets in the open field. He will have to prove he is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield and improve his pass protection in order to contribute on third downs however.
With rumors swirling that the new 49ers regime isn’t sold on inherited running back and perceived starter Carlos Hyde, the fact that Kyle Shanahan hand picked Williams can’t be ignored. Shanahan has an impressive track record when it comes to producing a high powered running attack and Williams was a piece worth adding in his system.
Shanahan took over as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 after an 8-8 2015 campaign. The Falcons went on to produce the highest-scoring offense in the league and the 5th ranked rushing attack last season. This rushing attack featured the two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Fast forward to 2017 where Shanahan will look to revamp a 49ers team that ranked 31st in total yards in 2016. The run game however fared better than that ranking would suggest finishing in the top-5 in rushing yards per game.
Although Hyde has flashed at times in his career he has yet to play a full 16 games in a season due to numerous injuries. With that history it is a safe bet that Williams could be in line to play big minutes if Hyde can’t stay healthy, and even if he does Shanahan clearly plans on using him.
With an average draft position of 299.9 according to myfantasyleage.com, the cost of Joe Williams is basically nothing. For a guy that carries massive upside due to Hyde’s injury history, Shannahans personal selection of Williams, and the rushing success likely to take place in San Fran, I’d say he is worth a flier in both redraft and dynasty leagues.