Lynch: 49ers will be proactive in assisting Joe Williams

Lynch: 49ers will be proactive in assisting Joe Williams

SANTA CLARA -- After months of evaluations and discussions, it took just a couple of phone calls for Utah running back Joe Williams to go from a player who did not even warrant a spot on the 49ers’ draft board to becoming a valued prospect worthy of a trade-up in the fourth round to acquire.

“The talent was undeniable, but when you hear ‘Quit the team,’ it was like ‘No, not interested,’” 49ers general manager John Lynch said.

But, just as it is in most cases, there was a lot more to this story of why Williams “retired” – or quit -- early in his final season of college football.

“I talked to his head coach, Kyle Whittingham, and Kyle said, ‘Let’s be very clear, he did not quit the team,’” Lynch said. “He physically and mentally got tired and broke down and he asked for advice on what they should do. He stepped away.”

On Saturday morning, just hours before the 49ers had to make a decision, Lynch called Williams to learn more about the person.

"I came in and I got on the phone with Joe," Lynch said. "I think it’s a wonderful story and it turned in from, 'I have no interest,' because my perception was anyone who quits a team I don’t want. And then I learned about the kid and I got a great deal of respect for how far he’s come and you mix that with the talent and it became someone we actually moved up to go secure.”

Williams remained away from the Utah team for a month. After the Utah backfield sustained some injuries, Whittingham went back to Williams and asked if he would return. Williams said he would. But Whittingham had to get approval from the remainder of the team. He was enthusiastically welcomed back.

Williams returned – and in a big way.

In the final seven games of the season Williams averaged 27 carries for 190 yards, including a 332-yard, four-touchdown performance against UCLA. He capped the season with 222 yards rushing against Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook was generally regarded as a first-round talent whose character concerns saw him drop to the ninth pick of the second round. Cook is 5 foot 10, 210 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 and the 20-yard shuttle in 4.53.

Williams (5-11, 210) ran a faster 40 (4.41) than Cook, while being significantly quicker in the 20-yard shuttle (4.19).

If it weren’t for Williams’ extraordinary skill as a runner, the 49ers might not have given him a second look. Coach Kyle Shanahan insisted that Lynch reconsider the decision to remove him from the 49ers’ draft board. Shanahan said he did not initially give Williams much consideration because all he knew was that he quit on the team.

“And then just on a random boring day, just watching other guys, I threw it on and watched it a little bit more and when the tape is that talented you want to look into those things a little bit more, and we did and we felt so much better about it,” Shanahan said. “When you see that overall ability, it doesn’t guarantee anything, but it means he has the ability to make all the cuts, the abilities to be a very good back in this league. Now he has to come do it and be consistent.

“After talking with him, his coaches, a lot of people who’ve known him, some of the things he’s gone through, we feel very good about the guy. We know there’s things we do need to help him with, but I think he can have a very bright future for us and for himself in the NFL.”

Shanahan said Williams’ speed, cutting ability, power and balance are as good as anybody in the draft. However, there is plenty in his background for teams to be alarmed.

He was kicked off his first college team, UConn, after being arrested for stealing a teammate’s credit card and having a backpack worth $124.90 shipped to his Pennsylvania home.

“I made that mistake with the situation with my teammate’s credit card,” Williams said. “But I learned from that and I continue to learn from my mistakes and just grow and mature. I can assure the 49ers organization and the fans that I’m a completely new person.”

In September, Williams had a difficult time coping with stress and physical ailments. He needed time to get away from the sport and come to grips with his past. Williams told Bay Area reporters he carried the guilt of his sister’s death for the past decade. On June 19, 2006, Williams’ 7-year-old sister, Kylee, passed away due to a heart condition.

“I was taking care of her to and from her bed you know, that’s when she died in my hands,” Williams said. “So just the guilt and shame that I had put upon myself, because I didn’t act quickly enough for, you know, with my parents or to call 911. I always thought that it was my fault.”

Williams said he needed time to take care of himself in September.

“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,” he said. “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.

“I got psychiatric help to get my life back in order because at that time I was in shambles. I did a lot of soul searching.”

Williams got a tattoo on his left arm that reads, “My Sister’s Keeper.” He plans to have Kylee’s face tattooed on his shoulder, as well. He visited her grave in Pennsylvania.

“I finally forgave myself,” Williams said. “That was the biggest thing.

“She was everything. She still is everything. She’s gone now and she’s just the chip on my shoulder that I use every day, gets me up out of the bed.”

Lynch said the 49ers will fully support Williams and provide all the resources he might need to continue to cope with the traumatic event of his childhood.

“We’re going to be very proactive -- not just with him, with all our players and in particular the rookies to support them in every way,” Lynch said. “It’s something that Joe and I talked about. ‘I know you’ve addressed it, but are you comfortable with us reassessing things, where you’re at and then from there gathering a plan?’ He indicated that’s what he wants. That’s what we’ll do.”

No shortage of athletic guards who fit 49ers scheme at Senior Bowl


No shortage of athletic guards who fit 49ers scheme at Senior Bowl

The 49ers could be in the market for a guard this offseason, and they will have plenty of options to evaluate during the week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

Right guard Mike Person started all 16 games last season and played well, but he remains unsigned as a free agent. Laken Tomlinson started all 16 games at left guard and did not miss a snap until the final game of the season, when he sustained a knee injury that was expected to keep him sidelined for the first three months of the offseason.

The 49ers will undoubtedly look to improve their depth in the interior of their offensive line, and this is considered a good year to be looking for athletic guards.

Here is a look at the South team’s interior offensive linemen who appear to fit the 49ers’ scheme:

C Garrett Bradbury, North Carolina State, 6-3, 300
The 49ers signed veteran center Weston Richburg on the first day of free agency last year, so center does not figure to a spot where the 49ers would invest an early draft pick. But Bradbury has elite quickness and athleticism, which would suit him well in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system.
Projected: Early rounds

G Dru Samia, Oklahoma, 6-5, 303
He has toughness and a bit of a mean streak. He also has the athleticism to get to the second level and adjust to make blocks on moving targets as part of the 49ers’ outside zone running game.
Projected: Mid rounds

G Ben Powers, Oklahoma, 6-4, 313
It is a big week for Powers, who, oddly enough, must prove he has the power to stuff NFL-caliber competition in the one-on-one drills that lead up to the Senior Bowl.
Projected: Late rounds

North guards

G Michael Deiter, Wisconsin, 6-6, 310
He played every position at one time or another at Wisconsin. With his athleticism, he is another good fit for the 49ers’ system. Deiter was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and broke the school record with 54 starts in his career.
Projected: Early rounds

G Chris Lindstrom, Boston College, 6-4, 310
The question for him during the week will be how well he runs and whether he can finish blocks in space.
Projected: Mid rounds

2019 NFL mock draft: Surprise pick for 49ers at No. 2 overall


2019 NFL mock draft: Surprise pick for 49ers at No. 2 overall

Nick Bosa? Josh Allen? Quiennen Williams? Keep guessing. 

Daniel Jeremiah, former scout and current draft analyst for NFL.com, has a bit of a surprise pick for the 49ers at No. 2 overall. One day after ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected San Francisco to select Allen, Jeremiah has the team picking Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary

Here's what Jeremiah wrote about the prospect: 

Gary has the size of a defensive tackle but the skill set to play on the edge. He'll give the 49ers one of the best young D-lines in the NFL.

At 6-foot-5 and 287 pounds, Gary has the ideal frame for the NFL. He can play all over the line and was the No. 1 high school prospect in the class of 2016. 

In his final year at Michigan, Gary played in nine games and had 3.5 sacks, plus 6.5 tackles for loss. He totaled 9.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss for his three-year college career. 

How does Gary stack up with Allen? Let's take a look at some measurables and numbers. 

Height: Gary 6-5; Allen 6-5
Weight: Gary 287; Allen 260
Tackles (2018): Gary 38 (6.5 TFL); Allen 88 (21.5 TFL)
Sacks (2018): Gary 3.5; Allen 17 

The two are much different players, making their stats hard to compare. Allen is a stand-up edge rusher who uses his speed to attack the quarterback and is also an outside linebacker. Gary is a classic defensive lineman who has the speed for sacks and the size to stuff the run. 

There's slightly more than three months until the NFL draft, and the debates have just begun with who the 49ers should select. Don't expect that to slow down anytime soon.