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SALT LAKE CITY — From early retirement to the NFL, former Utah running back Joe Williams was selected No. 121 overall in the fourth round in the NFL Draft Saturday.
The Pennsylvania native was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and is the third player from the University of Utah to be drafted in 2017. He is the second offensive player from Utah to be drafted this year.
"I don't think words do enough justice to describe how ecstatic I am," Williams told media shortly after he was drafted. "It was a journey to get here. This is a real world moment right now. I'm taking it in. Emotions are everywhere. I'm proud to be a part of this organization and I can't wait to fly out there and get to work."
The 49ers have a backlog at the running back position, with six other players looking to gain the starting spot at the position. Williams told media that it shows that "I've got a lot of work to do."
"First off, I'm a rookie, so I'm going to have to work for everything," he said. "I'm the seventh running back on the roster, so for me to be that starter and to take that starting job that I think Carlos Hyde has, I'm just going to come to work every day and just show the coaches and the guys that they can trust me in the game."
Williams joined Utah in 2015 as a junior college transfer. He became Utah's starting running back midway through the season after star running back Devontae Booker sustained a season-ending injury.
Williams came into the 2016 season as the team's starter but struggled to gain momentum and decided to retire due to injury and some family matters. He, however, decided to return to the team after several running backs sustained injuries. He would end the season with 1,407 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
His retirement and subsequent success became a national storyline. He quickly gained interest and was one of eight players from the University of Utah invited to the NFL Combine. Williams was a top performer in two of the six drills he participated in, including the 40-yard dash (4.41 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.19 seconds).
"I’m ever so grateful for coach (Kyle Whittingham) for giving that opportunity to come out here and play for this wonderful city and team," Williams said at Utah's pro day. "It will be something that I always will remember.”
Early projections had Williams as a late draft pick, but likely an undrafted free agent. However, the 49ers chose to trade up to get Williams, indicating a string desire to obtain the running back.
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