Much has been made about Kyle Shanahan and the notorious offense that comes with him. Big, explosive plays in both the running and passing game. The stat sheet is filled with eye-popping statistics from the starters all the way to the little-known role players. I can just picture it in my mind: the quarterback running a play-action bootleg while the speedy slot receiver sprinting down the seam for a long reception and subsequent touchdown. That is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring play-calls in all of football if you ask me. A lot of factors have to go right for that precise play to work properly. Suffice it to say that for that play to be successful (and several others for that matter), Shanahan’s bread and butter has to be clicking. I am referring to the outside-zone running game, more specifically what are referred to as “stretch” running plays. The main concept within stretch running plays is to get the defense moving in one direction. This “stretching” of the defense ideally allows the offensive line for the easier and more natural creation of lanes for the running backs.
“stretch” running plays.
Most recently, ATL running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were massively successful as ball carriers when reaping the benefits of the outside-zone running game. However as we all know, Kyle Shnahan isn’t in Atlanta anymore. It was up to him and running backs coach Bobby Turner to find backs that are tailored to fit this offense. Carlos Hyde will certainly get the lion’s share of the opportunities to be the starter. However after him, the 49ers had cloudy depth at the position, at best. John Lynch and Shanahan went out and signed veteran Tim Hightower to add a leader presence and depth to the running backs group. But, they weren’t done. They also selected standout running back Joe Williams out of Utah with the 121st overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Williams is a superb athlete with all the physical traits a team looks for in a premiere running back. Further, when John Lynch removed Williams from the 49ers Big Board due to character concerns, Shanahan lobbied for Lynch to put Williams back on the board and select him. That tells me everything I need to know about how Shanahan feels about Williams and his chances of being an instant -and long-term- contributor.
With that in mind, let’s go over a quick overview of Williams.
Excellent all-around athlete.
Possesses breakaway speed (4.41 40-yard dash).
Equally adept at running between the tackles or to the outside (see “stretch” plays).
Great lateral movement. Can put together moves to elude defenders in tight spaces.
Able to finish runs by lowering his pads and punishing defenders.
Needs to work on his patience. Sometimes reluctant to wait for blocks to develop, causing him to run into traffic.
Has to focus on ball security. Six fumbles on 289 carries at Utah.
Pass-catching skills need to improve for him to be a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Off-the field concerns are a factor. Needs to put those doubts to rest through work-ethic and professionalism, on and off the field.
I believe Williams is now in the perfect situation for his career to blossom. He has the one of the best play-callers in the NFL as both his head coach and offensive coordinator, and the best running back coach in the game as his position coach. If Williams is willing to put in the work and learn from those individuals and stay out of trouble, the sky’s the limit for him. I can see him as the perfect compliment to Carlos Hyde in this offense, and a mainstay of this new era of 49ers football. The running back position battle will be one of the more interesting areas of competition to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the off-season and into the preseason.
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