Niners' Backfield Shuffle Continues

With veteran Davis waived, roster spot is cleared for additions such as former Utah speedster Joe Williams to make his mark

The turnover on the 49ers roster has been huge, and it promises to continue for a while, even after the NFL draft.

Nowhere has the turnover been more apparent than at running back.

This past weekend, the Niners got a chance to see former Utah standout Joe Williams, a fourth-round pick, in the team’s three-day rookie minicamp. The addition of Williams, as well as the acqusition of veterans Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs and the re-signing of DuJuan Harris and the presence of No. 1 ballcarrier Carlos Hyde, give the 49ers a new backfield cast, along with fullback Kyle Juszcyk.

All the additions also resulted in the subtraction of veteran Mike Davis. Davis, a fourth-round pick by former general manager Trent Baalke in 2015, has been released. His departure makes room for the newcomers who hope to be more productive than Davis in his two years in the Bay Area.

Davis, who battled injuries since he joined the team in 2015, played just 14 games – and didn’t make an impact when he got on the field.

Davis carried a total of 54 times for 108 yards and one touchdown, an abysmal yards-pe-carry average of 2.0. He also caught 10 passes for 63 yards.

The rookie Williams, meanwhile, already is being touted as a possible breakout star in 2017. The 5-foot-11-inch, 210-pounder has terrific speed and could be a change-of-pace, special situation running back in Kyle Shanahan’s new offensive scheme.

He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash time among all running backs at this year’s NFL Combine.

“When you’ve got a guy who can run that fast and can cut, which is what Joe Williams is, I do think you have a chance to be pretty special,” Shanahan told reporters. “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.”

Niners general manager John Lynch credited Shanahan with being the force behind his selection. Lynch said Shanahan saw Williams’ talent and urged Lynch to check with Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham about Williams’ character, which had come into question during his Utes career.

Whittingham vouched for Williams, who had taken time off from football at Utah to work on some personal problems because of the death of his younger sister. Williams also had been released from the Connecticut football program previously because of an off-field incident regarding a stolen credit card, reported Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lynch said Whittingham told him that Williams “did not quit the team” at Utah, but stepped away temporarily after asking Whittingham’s advice.

Once Lynch’s concerns about Williams were addressed, the 49ers were excited to get him in the fourth round. Now he’s on the road to making an impact in a reworked San Francisco running back corps.

“I learned about the kid and I got a great deal of respect for how far he’s come,” Lynch told Daniel Mano of the Bay Area News Group. “And you mix that with the talent and it became someone we actually moved up to go secure.”

Lynch traded a fourth- and sixth-round pick to move up in the fourth round to select Williams.

In nine games for Utah in 2016, Williams ran for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns with an average of 6.0 yards per carry. He also had nine catches for 107 yards.  Over his final seven games, Williams averaged 190.2 rushing yards per game.

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