The San Francisco 49ers have been a trading machine in the 2017 NFL Draft, and it continued on day three as the team bolstered its running back corps. They started the day with a trade with the Denver Broncos to getting running back Kapri Bibbs, before trading picks 143 and 161 to the Indianapolis Colts to move up to 121 to Utah running back Joe Williams.
Williams briefly retired from football in 2016, but returned to the Utes to rush for 1,407 yards and set the school record averaging 156.3 yards rushing per game. During the Foster Farms Bowls, played at Levi’s Stadium, Williams had 278 total yards over Indiana. So he’s definitely excited to be a 49er.
“I don’t think words do enough justice to describe how ecstatic I am,” said Williams. “It was a journey to get here. This is a real world moment right now. I’m taking it in. Emotions are everywhere. I’m proud to be a part of this organization and I can’t wait to fly out there and get to work.
One of the concerns with Williams has been character and love of football after his brief retirement, but there was a reason for the break. In 2006, Williams’ sister died in his arms, causing him a lot of guilt, which is something he never truly dealt with. He needed the time to heal mentally.
“So, just coming into this season, a lot of the emotions were coming to the forefront and I was trying to deal with them the best way I could,” said Williams. “And as the season started and I knew that my mental health wasn’t where it needed to be, I knew that the best option for me was to sit down in front of my wife and my coaches and just tell them where I was at. And we came to the decision that stepping back at that time would be for my best interest, not only for football but life after football. And I was on them for weeks and I got psychiatric help to get my life back in order…I was just doing everything necessary to just finally come to that peace with her death. And the call came back after the Arizona game when a couple of running backs got hurt. And I knew I was good, because you know in some ways I had just so much more than what I did in 10 years. And above all that, I finally forgave myself. That was the biggest thing. And when I came back…I’m a completely different man.”
Now that he’s back, Williams is committed to football. He says that scouts know he’s talented and know he can play. Those weren’t the areas he needed to defend.
“I had to lay it out on the line that football is what I drink and breathe,” said Williams. “That’s what I wake up for in the morning and that’s how I want to provide for my family. They knew that. At first, they wanted to understand why I could walk away from football, but after telling them my journey of how I came to be, I felt as though they were empathetic about it and they understood that sometimes you have to put something you love to do on hold to do what’s right.”
Williams in one of seven running backs currently on the 49ers’ roster, so now it’s time to get to work.
“First off, I’m a rookie, so I’m going to have to work for everything,” said Williams. “And just like you said, I’m the seventh running back on the roster, so for me to be that starter and to take that starting job that I think [RB] Carlos Hyde has, I’m just going to come to work every day and just show the coaches and the guys that they can trust me in the game.”
Welcome to Santa Clara Joe Williams! Go Niners!