Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports



Running back Joe Williams will be one of two San Francisco 49ers players taking part in the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles, which begins on Thursday. On Wednesday evening, he carved time out of his schedule to join "NFL Total Access" live in-studio on NFL Network.

The 49ers traded up to select Williams with the 15th pick in the fourth round (121 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft. For personal reasons, Williams decided to retire from football early in 2016, but following injuries to Utah's running backs, returned and finished the year in the top 20 nationally with 1,420 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns through nine games.

"In 2007, when Williams was 13, his sister died of a heart ailment, and Joe Williams felt the burden was with him, because on the night she died, he was with her and fell asleep when she fell gravely ill," Peter King of TheMMQB wrote on May 1st. "He was destroyed, distraught, and ignored his pain, and as he discovered later, the bottling up of his pain caused extreme distress. He was diagnosed with manic depression."

On Wednesday, Williams discussed the decision to return the Utah football team after a month absence. "It was just the process of going through that tragedy in my life and just understanding that taking that time away allowed me to deal with the grief," Williams said. "And when I came back, I just wanted to prove everybody wrong. You know -- family, friends -- just everybody that was looking at me. Everybody."

Williams was not on the 49ers' draft board heading into the draft. It took some soul searching and a phone call with Williams to change the mind of 49ers general manager John Lynch, who was originally against drafting Williams because of his decision to leave the college game.

How Joe Williams convinced John Lynch to draft him

"[Lynch] had called me about an hour before the clock starting ticking," Williams said. "It was just an honor just to speak to him on the phone, being a Bronco great. I loved the Broncos. (They were) my favorite team for just -- you know, 49ers are my team now. Just laying it all out in there for him. The entire story of my whole life and letting him understand that -- have the peace of mind that if he gave me the opportunity -- which he did -- to play for the 49ers. I'm just glad to be part of this organization and ready to go to work."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan campaigned for Williams on the day prior to Williams' selection. That is what kicked off Lynch's decision to revisit the possibility of drafting the running back. Williams was asked what he thinks Shanahan saw in him that made him push for the selection.

"Coming from the Falcons, being an offensive coordinator and having Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman," Williams said. "And just looking at me on film and seeing kind of the same attributes that those two running backs have. Just trying to utilize me in the same way that he did in Atlanta. That's just what I'm trying to replicate for him."

Williams dominated during his final season at Utah. He was asked what he has to do with the 49ers to replicate that kind of success in the NFL.

"I just have to stay humble and just ready to work," Williams answered. "I come in as a rookie and there's a lot of expectations for me and from myself. I'm just going to run with every opportunity that I have and just go in there and learn from the veterans and just know that when I get my time to shine."

Former Minnesota Vikings and current New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson was and continues to be a big inspiration to Williams. He would watch Peterson highlights to get "pumped up" prior to each of his college games at Utah. Williams wore number 28 with the Utes.

"[Peterson was] my inspiration when I was growing up, watching football. Him and Barry Sanders. Just watching him would get me ready to go. Just try to replicate what he did using Oklahoma in his early years, at the Vikings."

It's a shame that the Saints aren't on the 49ers' schedule this season. That would have given Williams an opportunity to meet Peterson.