Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports



Joe Williams was not on the San Francisco 49ers' draft board going into the 2017 NFL Draft last month. It took some convincing from head coach Kyle Shanahan and a phone call with the former Utah running back to convince general manager John Lynch to select him with the 121st overall pick.

"If we don't get him, I'll be sick," Shanahan said the night before the selection. "I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night."

Williams had quit football in order to deal with the long-present grief that he carried due to the death of his sister at a younger age.

"I didn't have enough time to fully go through the grieving process," Williams told Brooke Cersosimo of NFL Media earlier this week. "I'm 23 years old now and I've finally realized that you've got to put things on halt, even if it's something that you love or are passionate about, just to be right in your life. Taking that time away from football definitely allowed me to do that."

The reason was enough to change the mind of the 49ers general manager, who had earlier cast Williams off of the team's draft plans because he felt he quit on football and his team.

"It was dead," Lynch told Peter King of TheMMQB during the draft. "No chance. I wasn't interested. But I knew how Kyle felt, so I figured I should at least talk to him. When I got in, I called him. When I got him on the phone, I said to him, 'Joe, to be honest, I was done with you.'"

Williams feels that he has a lot to prove as he gets set for his rookie campaign. While the running back returned to Utah after a brief absence, his decision to leave the game in the first place was not viewed well among numerous NFL teams.

Williams has spent the past three days in Los Angeles with numerous rookies from other teams that passed up on the opportunity to select him. Many of those players represent a roster spot that Williams could have had if another team had taken the time to reexamine its view of him as the 49ers did.

"Always have a chip on my shoulder," Williams said. "There was a lot of scrutiny towards leaving and when I came back and through this draft process. So having that on my mind is a constant motivator to prove everybody wrong."

While the 49ers did eventually give Williams an opportunity by selecting him in the fourth round, there was at least one other team that the running back knows had him off their draft board as well. Williams is eager to face that team when his opportunity arises.

"[The] Los Angeles [Rams], especially because of what happened in the draft and taking me off their boards," Williams said when asked which team he looks forward to playing against the most.

Another team that he is eager to play is the Seattle Seahawks – but for a very different reason. Williams respects their defense and sees it as a challenge.

"Besides [the Rams], I'd go Seahawks," Williams said. "That defense is crazy. Now being able to go against them as a player as opposed to playing them on 'Madden' with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett. It's going to be such a surreal moment to go up against them on Sunday or Thursday or whatever. That's something I look forward to."

Williams will get a chance to play each of the NFC West opponents twice each season. However, he knows that, right now, he is a rookie and still has a lot to prove to the 49ers coaching staff. He's ready to step up and show them that he can be a reliable and trustworthy player on the field. With his inspiration coming from great NFL running backs, he has a desire to be among the best ever. When all is said and done, he wants to look back at what he hopes will be a Hall of Fame career.

"To have my bust in Canton, Ohio [is my goal]," Williams said. "I always looked up to Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson when I was young watching football. I want to be that overall figure for other kids when they see me running for touchdowns on TV. That's definitely what I want my legacy to be."