49ers running back Joe Williams, who went from off the draft board to a fourth-round pick the next day in 2017, has become a largely forgotten man, especially with the team’s free-agency acquisition of running back Jerick McKinnon. But coach Kyle Shanahan still has high hopes for Williams, who landed on injured reserve as part of the final roster reductions.
“Joe’s come a long way,” Shanahan told reporters on Tuesday. “I think his body looks a lot better than it did last year. He’s put on a lot of muscle mass just how he’s worked and taken advantage of the year not playing. I think he has just a different mindset, understands a little bit more of the standard of the NFL and the difference. Sometimes it takes guys time. It’s not always malicious and they’re not trying, it just takes time to understand it and what you have to do day in and day out. I think Joe has made some huge strides between now and last year and I think that’s why he’ll have a chance.”
Shanahan specifically thinks Williams will have a chance to contribute.
“Joe’s an extremely explosive back,” Shanahan said. “Look at his yards per carry in the preseason last year. I don’t think it was a surprise that he was close to seven and had more than most of the guys. When it is blocked right, he’s got the size and the burst to get through there as fast as anyone. But it’s just about doing it day in and day out and protecting the football, what do you do when the run doesn’t look good, what do you do without the ball in your hands and just everything. Being the same guy every day. Joe has come a long way this year and I’m really excited about him coming back to training camp.”
Williams had 25 carries for 130 yards in the preseason last year, an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Which isn’t quite seven, but it’s still pretty good. Especially since McKinnon has a career rushing average of 4.0.