Although not directly related to the outside zone, Shanahan’s offense relies on passes to his running backs. Shanahan utilizes running backs in the passing game at an even higher rate in the red zone.
Even though running back Tevin Coleman stole snaps from lead running back Devonta Freeman in 2016, Freeman still led the Atlanta Falcons — and all NFL running backs — in red-zone targets.
Unfortunately for Joe Williams, one of the knocks on the rookie prior to the draft was his pass-catching ability. Another issue was his willingness to block. Poor blocking is a common reason why rookie running backs take a while to become starters.
Williams didn’t have the opportunity to catch many passes in college, so he should be able to improve this skill with practice, and rookies can learn to block. But it will take time. However, the 49ers need to begin the season with a starting running back who doesn’t shy from contact and can execute in the passing game:
Williams is an exciting prospect who will likely start for the San Francisco 49ers in the future, but Hyde will be the 49ers’ 2017 opening-day running back.