There were plenty of names that were called during the recent 2017 NFL Draft, but for ASA College, no one registered with the Avengers' family with more pride and joy than Joe Williams.
The Utah running back was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with their No. 121 pick, a certain steal when Williams's measurables are considered. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Williams runs the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds and was one of the most prolific running backs in the nation, last season, despite playing in just nine games. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native averaged 27.5 touches per game and had 22 runs of 15-plus yards, which was the 10th most among draft-eligible running backs last season – and despite seeing 19 other running backs have more rushing attempts.
49ers rookie general manager John Lynch spoke to Williams on the phone prior to making the move up the draft board and admittedly came away confident that the Utah/ASA product could help the team.
"We got really comfortable with the kid and [had] a better understanding of what his story was," Lynch said of Williams, who missed four games last season as he temporarily retired at the start of the season to tend to family issues.
Lynch said 49ers running backs coach Bobby Turner spoke with Williams regularly -- to the point where they communicated on a daily basis -- and steadily became convinced that the running back should be considered. Turner should know greatness, as during his decorated 22-year NFL coaching career, he's mentored greats – most notably Terrell Davis, who is entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.
First-year head coach Kyle Shanahan was also impacted by speaking with Williams and flipping on the game tape.
"He has the ability to make all the cuts, [and] the ability to be a very good back in this league," Kyle Shanahan said. "Now he's got to do it and be consistent. And after talking with him … we feel very good about the guy. We know there are things we do have to help him with, but I think he can have a very bright future for us and for himself in the NFL."
Williams ran for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a 332-yard performance against UCLA and a 222-yard game against Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium – which is hopefully a sign of things to come, as it's the home of the 49ers.
Lynch hopes for the same success to translate, and noted that talking to both Williams and his head coach at Utah, Kyle Whittingham, is what sold him on the prospect.
"Before I drafted a young man like that, I wanted to talk to him," Lynch said of his Saturday morning phone call. "He [Joe] mentioned to me that throughout that process he kind of addressed some things that had been bothering him for some time and feels like he came out a different person. I think it's a wonderful story."
The Joe Williams story has just begun, with everyone in the ASA family rooting for a happy ending.
- Williams's football journey began at Allentown where he starred in both football and track. He then went to Hargrave Military Academy in the fall of 2011, followed by attending the University of Connecticut the ensuing year, where he had six yards on three carries in nine games. Following a muddled stint at UConn, Williams moved on to ASA for the 2014 season, where he rekindled his passion for football. During his year at ASA, Williams was named second-team NJCAA All-American after tallying 1,093 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in seven games. Brooklyn was soon bid adieu and he signed with Utah, playing behind current Denver Bronco running back Devontae Booker and starting twice when Booker was injured. He tallied 490 rushing yards on 140 carries with seven touchdowns and added another 11 catches for 84 receiving yards.
- While he was projected as a sixth or seventh round selection, Lynch thought so highly of Williams that he traded up to nab him. San Francisco traded pick No. 143 in the fourth round and No. 161 in the fifth round to the Indianapolis Colts to move up to pick No. 121.
- Some scouts compare Williams to former NFL running back Jerick McKinnon for his speed and big-play ability.
- Said one NFC scout about Williams during the pre-draft evaluation: "The more tape you watch, the more you become impressed with Williams's ability to keep runs alive that other running backs couldn't. His ability to create yardage for himself is a necessary piece of the puzzle for NFL runners."