Nania’s All-22 takes a look back at New York Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams’s 2019 season through film and plenty of numbers.
Williams committed to the University of Alabama, where he redshirted his first year. In his redshirt freshman season, Williams was a rotational piece, putting up 20 tackles and two sacks. As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, Williams busted out, ranking top-five in the SEC with 20 tackles for loss (second) and eight sacks (fifth). Just 20 years old at the start of that season, Williams began skyrocketing up draft boards, as teams fell in love with a special blend of overwhelming power, savvy technique, and a non-stop motor.
Hardly on the NFL’s radar at all just a year earlier, Williams came into the draft season labeled by many as the best overall prospect in the 2019 class. Fast forward to April, and he became a New York Jet after being taken with the third overall pick.
2019 expectations: Fans and media set the bar high for Williams in his rookie season. The Jets passed up on bigger needs, especially at edge and offensive line, to stay put at No. 3 and bolster their strongest position group with Williams.
While he was raw at just 21 years old with only one year of starting experience in college, Williams’ tape showed that he absolutely had the ability to come in and make an instant positive impact in the NFL. Both the fanbase and the team hoped he would do just that — come straight through the door and begin dominating.
Positives: I think Williams’ debut season has gotten far too bad of a rap. Was he disappointing given his draft position? Yes. He has got to improve substantially going forward if he is going to be worth that third overall pick. However, was he an absolute do-nothing who is on track to be an all-time bust? That seems to be what a lot of people think — they could hardly be more wrong.
It is important to keep in mind that Williams was the second-youngest defensive tackle to play a regular-season game in 2019, just a couple of months behind Cowboys’ second-round pick Trysten Hill. Williams was a decent player in his rookie season, setting a nice foundation that he could build off of going into his age-22 second season. Against the run, Williams was solid. He executed his two-gapping assignments, blew up many plays with dominant penetration, and stayed active with an impressive number of hustle tackles that saved big yardage. The passing game is where he faltered, which we will get into more later on, but first I want to focus on what everyone missed about Williams.
Let’s first get into some of the off-the-stat-sheet plays that Williams made. Fans love to just look at sacks and tackles and evaluate a defensive player off of those numbers alone. That is incredibly foolish. Think about it. Shaq Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this year. He played 889 defensive snaps. So, Barrett picked up a sack on 2.2 percent of his snaps. That’s one out of every 46 plays.
What about the other 45 plays? Do those not matter? Are we just going to judge players based on a 2 percent portion of the time they spend on the field?
Box score production tells you little about how good a defensive player is. The vast majority of a player’s impact is not captured by simple statistics like tackles, interceptions and sacks.
I think Williams made the second-biggest number of unnoticed plays on the Jets’ defensive front, behind Steve McLendon. The special power that got him drafted third overall was on display constantly, creating impact that, although subtle, can be just as valuable as that of a sack.
Watch the sheer muscle Williams showcases here, as he holds his ground against the double team, then shoves left guard Ereck Flowers (No. 77) like a ragdoll once the center leaves for the second level. Williams shoves Flowers straight into Dwayne Haskins, slowing him down enough for Henry Anderson to make the diving stop from behind. If Williams does not make this play, Haskins likely gains at least five additional yards, or potentially much more.
Here is another instance in which Williams blows up a play and gets zero credit for it. He gets an excellent jump off the ball, blowing Rodney Hudson (one of the best centers in football) into Josh Jacobs’ lap. Jacobs has to redirect to the backside, and numerous troops await to make the stop for no gain. It all happens thanks to Williams’ penetration.
Although pass-rushing was a weakness for Williams, he showed off some bright flashes late in the season, collecting pressures that led to positive results for the defense. Here, he lays a hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick that leads to an interception by James Burgess (which was called back due to a hold on Burgess). Beautiful outside rip by Williams, an example of the rush repertoire he displayed at Alabama that vaulted him from an exciting athlete to a complete prospect.
Williams had a set of back-to-back key pressures in the red zone against Miami. On 2nd & 10, Williams gets a hit on Fitzpatrick that helps lead to a throwaway.
On the next play, Williams creates instant pressure that leads to a 3rd & Goal stop. Going forward, you want to see him finish these more often.
The Week 14 game against Miami was Williams’ second in a row with multiple high-impact pressures, as he had a couple the week prior against Cincinnati. On this play, Williams creates pressure up the middle that forces Andy Dalton to scramble. That results in Dalton missing the opportunity to find a wide-open Alex Erickson crossing over the middle on 3rd & 4. Williams’ pressure turns a likely 15-plus yard conversion into a punt.
Here, Williams bull-rushes the guard into Dalton’s lap, forcing him to hastily toss a ball that lands directly in Brian Poole‘s hands for an interception opportunity.
It is fair to note that these plays came against the Dolphins and Bengals, who have two of the worst offensive lines in football, but they are strong moments of promise nonetheless.
Back to Williams’ run defense. One of his most intriguing traits coming out of Alabama was his motor. Williams showed off excellent range for a man his size, frequently crossing the formation to make stops.
That ability translated to Williams’ rookie year. He made some crucial hustle plays, shedding blocks and tracking the ball like a heat-seeking missile to save yardage most other defensive tackles would not have.
Here, Williams disengages two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, ranging over to stop James Conner for a one-yard gain after Henry Anderson’s penetration set the tone.
This time, Williams beats the left tackle to the play side on this outside zone run and tracks down a run that was directed four gaps to his left.
Williams again wins inside and comes from the backside to make a play, bringing down Dak Prescott for a 4th & 2 stop.
Here, Williams gets out of traffic and ranges over to bring down Ezekiel Elliott for a one-yard gain on 2nd & 10. Had Williams gotten caught in the trenches and failed to get over, Elliott would have had only Marcus Maye between him and the goal line, with Travis Frederick out in space to open up an outside cutback lane that could have led to the end zone.
Williams had his share of bright moments against top-tier competition. You have already seen him make plays against Rodney Hudson and Alejandro Villanueva. Here, he holds his ground against Eagles’ three-time Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson, shedding the block and stopping Miles Sanders short of the marker on 2nd & 3.
Williams put some awesome reps on tape against Dallas’ strong offensive line. On this crucial 3rd & 1 in the red zone, Williams beats four-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin to help Folorunso Fatukasi and Jamal Adams stuff Elliott for a one-yard loss.
This is one of Williams’ most impressive plays of the year. He beats the double-team of two All-Pros, Martin and center Travis Frederick, to stop Elliott for a one-yard gain on first down. Dallas’ offensive line gets an exceptionally-timed jump off the snap, but Williams holds so strong at the point of attack that there isn’t any room for Elliott to work with. He is forced to cut back into the waiting arms of Williams and Kyle Phillips.
Getting penetration against two superstars, shedding, tossing the center to the ground so he can’t get to the linebacker at the second level, and contorting to the backside to make the stop? My goodness. That right there is an example of the superstar potential Williams has.
Williams finished with solid numbers in run defense. He earned a run defense grade of 72.9 from Pro Football Focus, which ranked 31st out of 104 qualified interior defensive linemen (71st percentile). He recorded a run stop (tackle that constitutes a negative value result for the offense) on 8.9 percent of his snaps in run defense, 20th out of 111 qualifiers at his position (83rd percentile).
Negatives: The passing game is where Williams was all too quiet. It is less about his sack total (2.5) and more about the lack of overall pressure. He collected 19 pressures on 330 rush snaps, a rate of 5.8 percent that ranked 80th out of 118 qualified interior linemen (32nd percentile). Williams also ranked in the 35th percentile at his position in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush grade (57.8).
Williams often played much too upright, coming into rushes with his shoulders far too high which limited his ability to create initial push. He also lacked counter moves to get off of blocks. When linemen got their hands on him, it was over. Those problems resulted in a lot of reps like this one, in which he was held stationary at the line of scrimmage and created no impact.
We saw earlier on how Williams certainly showed flashes of his ability to win in the passing game both with sheer power and technique. The talent is there, but he must learn how to maximize it to make an impact on a more frequent basis going forward.
Williams must be more consistent at maintaining a low center of gravity coming off the ball, or his elite strength will go to waste. Williams gets a full head of steam on this snap and has an opportunity to create strong penetration, but comes in much too vertical and tentative, producing nothing at all.
Williams certainly has an array of moves in his toolbox, but he needs to do a better job of maximizing them. He often chose the wrong move for the situation or threw his move too late. This failed rush against Washington is an example of a technical failure. Williams is correct to attempt an arm-over move in this situation to split the double-team, but he throws it much too late, leaving his chest open to be punched by the left tackle. The rush is stymied and Williams is unable to make anything happen despite a wide-open window in front of him.
Williams is fully capable of executing moves like that. He did it routinely in college.
Snap timing is another area Williams can improve. He tends to come off the ball just a beat slow, as he does in the Redskins and Bills clips above. That fraction of a second can make all of the difference. Foley Fatukasi developed his snap timing to an elite level in his second season, leading to a ton of devastating reps as he combined that newfound ability with his immense strength. Williams has similar strength to Fatukasi and a much larger set of rush moves. Imagine the destruction he would cause if he masters snap timing in year two as Fatukasi did.
These are all things Williams can develop in time. What is important is that he made it clear there is raw star-caliber potential within him.
2020 Outlook: Williams’ rookie campaign reminds me a lot of Jamal Adams’.
Adams came into the league at just 21 years old, one of the youngest players in the league at his position. He produced at a merely decent level in his rookie season. Against the run, he was solid, although unspectacular. In the passing game, Adams struggled. He was victimized for a myriad of touchdown grabs and big gains through the air.
However, while Adams did not perform any better than an average level as a rookie, he flashed so many moments that made it obvious he had the potential to become a superstar. Particularly in the passing game, Adams was on the verge of making a bunch of huge plays, but was frequently came up a hair short.
Jamal Adams inches away from big plays in coverage. He wasn't burnt toast. He was soooo close to destroying so many plays in coverage. Excited to see what he can do with a full year under his belt. If he is just a beat quicker to the ball, he can be a beast in coverage. pic.twitter.com/ePDEgafzxX
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) June 16, 2018
Adams was always right there. His gifted football IQ jumped off the screen week after week. With a little bit of progression, Adams could make up those small gaps and start dominating games on a consistent basis.
And that is exactly what he did. In situations where he was ever-so-close as a rookie, Adams began making game-changing plays.
I see Williams in the exact same boat. He was okay as a rookie, doing a nice job against the run but struggling against the pass. The same description was applied to Adams’ rookie season two years ago. However, both players displayed obvious upside. Just like how Adams flashed his incredible versatility and awareness, Williams flashed his special blend of power and technique.
Williams was not able to put those tools together to make a star impact as a rookie, but neither was Adams. In year two, Adams came out and made it glaringly obvious that he had used his rookie season to identify the obstacles standing between him and stardom, and subsequently put in the work to eliminate them.
Can Williams do the same?