By: Adam Myers (Twitter: @AdamTMyers)
One of the biggest boosts to any fantasy teams season is the late-round sleeper pick that hits, the waiver wire addition that turns into an every week starter, the Jordan Howard of 2017 fantasy football. Last year Howard was one of those fantasy season making players, and everybody is searching for the next breakout player. Who in this years draft class has the potential to live up to the lofty standards set by Howard? The answer is Joe Williams.
Why Joe Williams?
The 49er’s New Look Coaching Staff – A few things need to happen in order for a rookie like Williams to break out into fantasy relevance, the most important of which being opportunity. He has to get the ball in his hands. Most people feel that Carlos Hyde is the de facto lead dog in that backfield, and at the start of the season this may be the case.
One thing, however, is certain; the 49er’s new head coach, Kyle Shanahan, and running backs coach Bobby Turner, saw something in this kid that they loved. Williams was off the 49er’s draft board going into day three of the draft, but Turner and Shanahan urged the 49er’s new GM John Lynch to reconsider his position on the talented runner out of Utah. After receiving the green light from Lynch to move forward with Williams back on their board, the 49er’s traded up twenty-two picks in the 4th round in order to select Williams.
Williams is the running back of the new look 49er’s coaching staff, and Carlos Hyde is that of the failed regimes preceding him.
Shanahan’s Prowess with Late Round Running Backs – Former Kyle Shanahan led offenses have produced fantasy relevant running backs who were late round selections in the NFL Draft. For example, Steve Slaton was a rookie in 2008, and a third round pick for the Houston Texans.
The Injury History of Carlos Hyde
We know that Williams has the respect of the coaching staff, but it’s usually still a struggle for a 4th round rookie to come in, learn a new system, and beat out an established veteran like Hyde. Injuries, however, are the great equalizer.
David Johnson was third on the running back depth chart of the Arizona Cardinals behind Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, but injuries to both backs ahead of him earned David Johnson the starting role, and he never let it go. Similarly, Jordan Howard entered his rookie season third on the depth chart behind Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Early injuries to both Carrey and Langford gave Howard the starting role and similarly to Johnson, he never looked back.
What does this mean for Williams? Williams will likely enter the season as either the second or third running back on the depth chart with Hyde likely getting the nod as the starter, and offseason acquisition Tim Hightower filling in as the change of pace/pass catching back. Over his three year career in the NFL, Hyde has missed fourteen games due to injury and his two years as a starter in 2015 and 2016 he has missed twelve games.
This history of injuries for Hyde leads me to believe that he likely will miss at least some time again this season, opening the door for the rookie Williams to earn snaps as a starter.
Williams college career is tough to judge. He had some off the field issues while at Connecticut, which led to a season long suspension in 2013. Williams played his 2014 season at a small junior college in New York and rushed for 1,093 yards and seven TD’s in seven games.
This standout year led to new interest from some bigger name schools, and in 2015 Williams played in Utah behind Devontae Booker. The 2016 season came and Williams had earned the starting role for the Utes. After week two of the season, Williams retired due to multiple factors, the greatest of which being that he needed to cope with the death of his younger sister.
After taking a month off from the team, multiple injuries to the Utah backfield led Williams to return to action, and return with a bang. His impressive 2016 season was bolstered by a 333 yard, four TD performance against one of the bigger name programs in UCLA.
Joe Williams had an impressive combine as well which helped elevate his draft stock into the fourth round when original projections had him being selected in the sixth or seventh. When compared to the measurables of Jordan Howard, the numbers for Williams are very similar.
Ultimately, it was the off the field issues and an exceptionally deep running back draft class that led to the diminished draft stock and limited college workload for Williams. All of that is now in the rearview mirror for Williams, however, and he’s in a position to not only succeed, but thrive with the 49er’s.
Williams has the support of the coaches, one of the brightest offensive minds in today’s game calling the shots, the benefit of an injury prone starter ahead of him on the depth chart, and has shown enough flashes during his collegiate career to warrant further fantasy consideration for the 2017 season.
His ADP currently has him being drafted in a twelve team PPR setting at the back end of the thirteenth round, and in standard scoring leagues at the back end of the twelfth round. This means the investment necessary to snag Williams is almost non-existent, but the upside is a week winning, season defining, fantasy football superstar. Don’t miss out on Williams, who very well could be the next breakout fantasy stud.