There’s a lot to be said for Joe Williams, the former Utah running back now trying to make the 49ers roster as a fourth-round draft pick.
Williams is fast, elusive and coming off a productive college career for the Utes. And, he impressed new head coach Kyle Shanahan with the way he played at Utah, enough so that Shanahan lobbied general manager John Lynch to draft him.
But after four exhibition games and a long training camp, the 49ers now need to make some tough choices about who makes the 53-man regular-season roster, and Williams could be on the bubble.
Yes, Williams has shown ability. He led the 49ers in rushing with 130 yards on 25 carries, a 5.2-yard average. But he’s also shown a tendency to fumble and he’s been outperformed at times by unheralded running backs such as Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert.
In his latest projection of the 49ers opening-game roster, Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com has Williams making the team, along with running backs Carlos Hyde, Breida, Mostert and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. That would mean veteran ballcarriers Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs won’t. Breida apparently has won the No. 2 running back role behind Hyde.
In his final audition Thursday night in the exhibition game vs. the Chargers, Williams rushed for 53 yards on 10 carries, but he left with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Plus, he fumbled – something that worries Shanahan.
“If you can’t hold on to the ball, it’s tough to play in this league,” Shanahan told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group after Thursday night’s game. “He’s had a few of them, so that definitely is alarming. It’s something we have to get fixed.”
The 49ers must reduce their roster to 53 by Saturday.
The team’s regular-season debut is Sept. 10 vs. the Carolina Panthers.