One of the most undervalued players in dynasty fantasy football leagues is Joe Williams. Williams had an interesting route to the NFL, but I’m here to explain why he should be on your radar.
Williams was drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft at pick 121 overall. The 49ers traded up to make the selection, giving picks 143 and 161 to the Colts.
Quick history on Williams: he committed to UConn out of high school only to get kicked off the team for credit card theft, spent two years at “ASA College” in Brooklyn, and transferred to Utah for his junior and senior years.
Williams temporarily retired during his senior year but returned to the team at the coach’s request a month later when three backs got injured. He went on to have a very impressive senior season.
Here’s an excerpt from RotoDoc’s profile of Williams earlier this offseason:
The raw numbers in Williams’ final year at Utah are certainly impressive, boasting a 156.3 rushing yards per game average. However, when we remove those first two pre-retirement games where he accumulated only 75 yards and no touchdowns, that average suddenly jumps to 190.3 rushing yards per game. One hundred ninety! The best part about that? Six of the seven games were against Pac-12 competition, with the seventh coming against Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl, so it wasn’t like it was against a bunch of slouches.
Not only did Williams exhibit impressive production but he was also a dominant workhorse, registering a remarkable 88.8 nQBDR and Workhorse Score in the seven games after returning to the team. While he wasn’t very involved in the passing game, he was a true workhorse on the ground.
Before we go overboard, let’s mention that he did play behind Devontae Booker in 2015 and only played one year as the lead back.
When looking at running backs, Kevin Cole’s regression tree is a great place to start. By running a blazing 4.41 forty, being over 70 inches tall, and posting a broad jump of 125 inches, he lands in the most favorable node. This node puts him in a cohort of comparable players that have a 78 percent chance of finishing with a least one top-12 running back PPR season.
His workhorse score and regression tree show a very promising future, but let’s note that his agility score, which includes his three-cone time, doesn’t inspire much confidence. We have, however, seen running backs with poor three-cone times dominate in the NFL.
The 49ers incumbent starter is Carlos Hyde. Despite struggling to stay healthy, playing in 20 of 32 games in the last two seasons, Hyde has been moderately productive, albeit without a 1,000-yard season through three years. The value of his brand still owes a lot to the hype associated with a strong career at Ohio State. Let’s see how his college production and athleticism compare with Williams.
Williams isn’t as heavy but is much faster and has the better jumping ability.1 In terms of production, Williams received more carries and ran for more yards per game against slightly better competition. Hyde ran for more yards per carry and more touchdowns per game. Neither was very involved in the passing game.
I would be remiss to not mention that we’re comparing career rushing yards per game and Williams only played for Utah as a junior and senior while Hyde played his freshman through senior years at Ohio State. Regardless, Williams looks like the superior athlete and holds his own in terms of production.
Now let’s note the Kyle Shanahan banged the table to draft Joe Williams. Despite GM John Lynch removing Williams from his board, Shanahan was still able to persuade the Niners to draft Williams. Prior to the draft, Lynch openly questioned Carlos Hyde’s fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s Grant Cohn wrote the following about Hyde:
Hyde is the slowest and most indecisive running back on the team. I’m not saying he’s bad – he does have quick feet between the tackles, he can bounce inside runs to the outside and he plows through defenders. But he doesn’t seem to have the vision to succeed in Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone running scheme… The Niners should trade him to a team that runs the zone read.
It’s still very early in the offseason but regardless, Kyle Shanahan handpicked Williams – he simply inherited Carlos Hyde.
CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco believes fourth-round rookie Joe Williams has a “legitimate chance” to “immediately unseat” Carlos Hyde as the starter. Remember, Hyde is entering the final year of his contract for a regime that has zero ties to him. Even if Williams doesn’t take over this year, he is well-positioned to be the starter next season.
Using the Box Score Scout app, I found the following similar prospects for Joe Williams.
Kyle Shanahan joined the Niners after being the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. When Williams was drafted, many called him Shanahan’s next Tevin Coleman. Fittingly, Coleman shows up as Williams’ most similar prospect. Along with Coleman, Williams has many other promising comps.
Despite having many things in his favor, Williams can be had at a very cheap price. In MFL10s, on average, Williams is selected as the 50th RB off the board – behind the likes of Darren Sproles, Jonathan Stewart, and Latavius Murray. In dynasty leagues, despite rising quite a bit, his rookie ADP is still just 20.7, or RB11.
Williams has the production and athleticism to be a future RB1 and might have the opportunity very soon. His cost is right to take a chance.
When he’s not searching for ways to defeat his opponents, Mike Braude spends his time finding ways to remove the randomness of fantasy football and reward the most skilled fantasy owners. He has remedied this issue by creating Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues.
- Agility was exempt because Hyde did not participate in agility drills. (back)