San Francisco 49ers rookie running back Joe Williams didn’t get off to the hottest of starts in 2017. And while he’ll make the 53-man roster, what’s his fate this season?
The San Francisco 49ers are going to keep rookie running back Joe Williams on their 53-man roster this season.
It’s simply too soon to give up on the team’s fourth-round pick from the 2017 NFL Draft.
But there’s a real chance he makes little-to-no impact this year. And he’s already been the subject of scrutiny, from both inside the organization and out.
San Francisco 49ers
Most can recall how general manager John Lynch wanted nothing to do with Williams on draft day, only to have his opinion changed by head coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner.
OK, fine. Williams does have explosive speed and seems to be a natural fit in Shanahan’s offensive scheme.
But Williams wasn’t much of a factor during training camp, seldom making waves and not flashing his NFL potential until Week 1 of the preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Again, fine. Yet Williams’ potential doesn’t make up for the concerns.
It doesn’t make up for the emergence of undrafted free-agent tailback Matt Breida either.
Breida worked with the first-team unit during San Francisco’s third preseason game — the most accurate reflection of regular-season action — not Williams. Instead, Williams saw 26 snaps during the final preseason tuneup, unusual for a rookie all but “guaranteed” to make the roster.
And Williams didn’t help his chances, fumbling inside the red zone.
“If you can’t hold onto the ball, it’s tough to play in this league,” Shanahan said after the game, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News. “[Williams] had a few of them, so that definitely is alarming. It’s something we have to get fixed.”
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What Happens for Joe Williams and the 49ers During the Regular Season?
A history of fumbles doesn’t help. And already being under scrutiny from Lynch won’t help matters either.
In all likelihood, the Niners roll out Breida as the No. 2 ball-carrier behind Carlos Hyde. It makes sense. After all, this was the lineup in Week 3 of the preseason. Williams was even in more of a secondary role to preseason standout Raheem Mostert.
San Francisco will keep four halfbacks — Hyde, Breida, Mostert and Williams. But it’s likely the 49ers dress only three of them on game days.
Remember, teams can only keep active 46 players during any game. The rest are listed as inactive.
It’s possible Williams starts off the season as part of this crop — not exactly a flashy reward for Shanahan and Turner’s gamble.
But it’s also possible Williams is merely going through the growing pains many first-year players experience. Heck, even San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher, Frank Gore, had fumbling problems early in his career.
Regardless, Williams isn’t off to a good start. And with a Niners regime holding no punches on its attempts to improve the roster, Williams’ long-term prognosis no longer looks as guaranteed as it did not so long ago.
Editor’s update: The 49ers are placing Williams on injured reserve, according to a report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.