Over the next month or so, we’ll be looking at each of the Jets’ draft picks and undrafted free agent signings in detail. We continue today with a breakdown of their first pick, Quinnen Williams.
Williams, a 21-year old defensive tackle out of Alabama, is listed at 6’3” and 303 pounds. He enjoyed a break-out year in 2018, with 71 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He was named as a unanimous all-American and won the Outland Trophy, awarded to the best interior lineman in the nation.
Williams attended high school in Alabama and was initially recruited to Auburn as a four-star recruit, before opting to attend Alabama instead.
His college career got off to a slow start, as he redshirted his freshman year in 2016 and then played in a rotational role in 2017. He contributed well, but ended up with just 20 tackles and two sacks, as he averaged just 10 snaps per game. He played 12 snaps against Georgia as Alabama won the BCS title game.
2018 saw him explode onto the scene with a series of outstanding performances against the run. He didn’t register any sacks in the first five games, but then was a dominant pass rusher down the stretch as he racked up eight over the rest of the season. Alabama again reached the BCS title game, this time losing to Clemson.
Williams’ stock soared over the course of the year and by the time he attended the scouting combine, the general consensus was that he and Ohio State edge defender Nick Bosa were the two best prospects in the draft. He further solidified his position at the combine with a solid display.
The Jets selected Williams with the third overall pick in the 2019 draft after Bosa had gone to the 49ers one pick earlier.
Let’s take a closer look at what Williams brings to the table, divided into categories.
Williams is perhaps slightly undersized, although he fits right into the mold of recent success stories like Aaron Donald and Grady Jarrett, who use a combination of quickness and technique to disrupt on the interior, mitigating any size or length disadvantage.
Williams’ arm length is only average, but he has a wide frame, so his wingspan is well above average anyway at just over 80 inches.
His explosiveness at the line of scrimmage is immediately apparent on film and he showed signs of this at the combine by running a 4.83 40-yard dash and posting an outstanding 112” broad jump. He also posted a solid vertical leap.
While Williams didn’t do the bench press or agility drills at the combine or his pro day, his strength at the point of attack and lateral quickness are again instantly apparent from watching his film.
When Roger Goodell announced the Williams pick, he announced him as a nose tackle. That’s important, although it’s worth noting that he was actually shading or directly over the center less than 30 percent of the time last season.
Let’s not get confused over what that a nose tackle role would entail with the Jets. This isn’t going to be a two-gapping role that will require him to bulk up to 330-pounds and lead to him taking on blocks for other people to make plays all the time.
Instead, he’d likely shade the center on running downs when the Jets are in a base defense (which won’t be very often) and otherwise will line up all over the place to attack in pass rushing situations.
Williams played the majority of his snaps lined up somewhere between the A-gap and the B-gap, so he’s perhaps most comfortable as a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-technique. Despite what was reported over the offseason, you can expect Gregg Williams to run plenty of four-man fronts next season.
In 2017, Williams didn’t play much because he had 2018 first round pick Da’Ron Payne ahead of him in the rotation. This meant he actually played a higher proportion of his snaps on the edge than he did as a full-time starter in 2018.
While Williams is by no means an edge rusher, the Jets could certainly run some packages where he’s in the game at the same time as Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson - or maybe with Steve McLendon in the game at nose tackle - and any of the three could line up outside in such situations.
Williams is a hard-working player whose effort shows up best in downhill pursuit. Since he wins so many matchups quickly, the requirement to keep battling to the whistle is rarely an issue, but he will fight against double and sometimes triple-teams.
Here’s an example of his relentlessness as he keeps working to finally get the sack.
There are some rare examples of him slowing down at the end of plays where the action goes away from him, but he’ll chase down anything he has a realistic chance to influence.
Williams established himself as capable of being a three-down player in 2018 as his playing time increased over the course of the season. He averaged 54 snaps per game in the last four games of the year, which included the SEC title game and the playoffs. However, he was worn out by the pace of Oklahoma’s offense at one stage in the second half.
An undersized nose tackle could potentially be a liability against the run if they can’t hold their ground at the point of attack, but Williams has the ability to penetrate and rarely ends up on the floor, as he exhibits excellent core strength and balance.
On this play, Williams fights off a block at the point of attack and gets the running back down before he can get to the outside.
His impact plays will tend to come from his quickness into the backfield, as he can fight off blocks and shoot gaps impressively. However, he also moves laterally superbly to stay in front of the ball carrier and will bottle up runs if you run at him.
Here Williams shows his quickness. The left tackle wants to beat him to a spot so he has inside leverage and can kick him outside to create a lane, but Williams’ first step is too fast and he makes contact with his man to set the edge before coming downhill.
He has that same ability as Jarrett (and, before him, Sheldon Richardson) that when the offensive lineman seems like he’s starting to get some purchase to drive him back, he is able to slip off the block and explode past him to fill a running lane. That’s probably the kind of play that inspired teammate Jonah Williams to compare him to a “300-pound bar of soap”.
Williams got off to a slow start as a pass rusher, as he didn’t register a sack in his first five games of the year. In fact, including 2017, his first 19 games at Alabama saw him record just 17 total pressures, with two sacks, in 175 pass rush reps.
He exploded over the remainder of the season, though, with 44 total pressures, including eight sacks, in 246 pass rush attempts.
While he didn’t record a sack in either playoff game, Williams was still disruptive with a season-high nine pressures against Oklahoma. He had two in the BCS title game.
Williams is effective at beating his man into the backfield with quickness and is deadly once he gains an initial leverage advantage but also shows an ability to take advantage of his man with a bull rush.
Williams’ most effective move is the arm-over move. He’s so quick and aggressive with it, that he’s able to gain an instant leverage advantage and get the defensive player’s hands off him.
What’s interesting about that is that Leonard Williams also favors that move although Pepper Johnson famously doesn’t like it and tried to dissuade him from using it while he was the Jets’ defensive line coach.
He’ll also mix in some good jerk moves and when working on the edge, he would display a rip move that he has also used effectively on the interior.
Williams’ footwork is outstanding as he adjusts his body position to maintain a leverage advantage and his hand-fighting techniques are refined, with accurate strikes and hand placement.
None of this should be a surprise given the fact that he worked with Karl Dunbar as his defensive line coach in 2016 and 2017. Dunbar is credited with developing the likes of Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison while he was with the Jets and all of them exhibited advanced hand fighting techniques and solid footwork.
Impressively, Williams only had a few missed tackles in his two years with the Crimson Tide. 71 tackles is great production for an interior lineman too.
His lateral quickness and wide frame give him good range and he’s effective at dragging down or tripping a runner if he has to dive or reach for them to make a play outside his frame. He shows off his strength here after having split a double-team.
Williams takes good angles in pursuit and will chase plays down and dive into a pile. He was in on one forced fumble during his two seasons with Alabama.
Williams hasn’t contributed much in coverage yet, although he is athletic enough to chase down a receiver on a short pass. He only dropped off into coverage twice at Alabama, although he did record one pass defensed on a bat down at the line.
Williams’ vision and play recognition is outstanding. He can shoot a gap in be in the backfield to blow up a play before it gets going, but is extremely disciplined and will stay at home to make a play just as often, rather than recklessly going into business for himself.
As he takes on blocks, he keeps his head up and finds the ball, shedding the block in good time to get in on the stop.
If there’s an area where he needs to improve here, it’s in terms of recognizing and exploiting zone concepts even better than he already does, as he sometimes is initially blocked downhill and then has to fight back to get in on the play.
Here was a rare play where the run fit up front clearly got messed up. This may have been a communication breakdown or a poorly designed defensive play, as it was unusual to see Williams take himself out of a play like this.
Most of Williams’ work on special teams has been on the kick block unit, although he has also rushed a few punts from on the line and saw some snaps as a blocker on the kick return unit in 2017.
He had two penalties in 2017, one when he false started on an extra point and another when he was offside on a punt.
Williams is well-spoken and humble. He lost his mother to breast cancer when he was a child and says that she had instilled effort, discipline and accountability in him so he was never going to dishonor her memory by getting in trouble off the field.
On the field he’s a fiery and energetic player who will fit ideally alongside a guy like Jamal Adams.
He had five penalties in 2018; two for offside, two for grabbing the face mask and one for roughing the passer. He sometimes needs to be careful about getting called for hands to the face too.
Williams didn’t miss any time through injuries at Alabama and showed some toughness down the stretch after he broke his pinky finger in the final game of the regular season. This caused him to miss the bench press at the combine and he’s since had surgery to fix it. That might partly explain why his production was down slightly in the SEC title game and the two playoff games.
As noted above, Williams can line up in a variety of roles and help the Jets, which will give Gregg Williams even more flexibility than he already has with his new Jets defense.
His role with the Crimson Tide also required multiple fronts and alignments so he’ll already be well-versed in terms of what’s required of him.
Setting aside the issue of whether the Jets had bigger needs elsewhere, Williams is an impressive prospect who should be a disruptive force from the outset as an NFL player.
Based on his 2018 season, he is a better prospect than his Alabama predecessors, Jonathan Allen and Payne, each of whom are off to solid starts to their pro career. Furthermore, he’s a more explosive and more well-rounded prospect than Leonard Williams was as he was entering the league.
Finding a way of using all of the defensive linemen to enable optimal production will be a challenge for the coaching staff, but however the Jets use Williams, they’re going to get a relentless effort and a disruptive force that will hopefully have a positive influence on the whole defense.