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NY Jets’ Quinnen Williams is playing at an Aaron Donald level

Quinnen Williams, NY Jets, Aaron Donald, Stats, Pressures, Rank, Contract
Quinnen Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

In a prove-it year, No. 95 is on a mission to live up to his draft billing and earn a new deal

The New York Jets finally appear to have something good left over from the Mike Maccagnan era.

After years of showing flashes, Quinnen Williams is putting it all together in Year 4. Quinnen has been the Jets’ best defensive player, and he’s taken it to the next level over the last several weeks.

Against the Green Bay Packers, Williams recorded two sacks, seven pressures, four defensive stops, a forced fumble, and a blocked field goal. He was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week as a result.

Following this game, Quinnen is now the undisputed best defensive tackle in the NFL, at least for 2022.

That’s right – move aside, Aaron Donald. There is a new king.

Among 96 qualified defensive tackles with at least 125 defensive snaps, Quinnen Williams ranks:

  • 1st in pressures (24)
  • 1st in sacks (6)
  • 16th in defensive stops (11)
  • 4th in impact plays (a play on which a defensive player records a pressure, defensive stop, or batted pass) (31)

The only two players close to Quinnen Williams are the aforementioned Donald and Jonathan Allen. Both have more defensive stops. However, Quinnen’s dominance is made even more impressive when you consider that he has played 50 fewer snaps than either one. In fact, Quinnen is accomplishing all of this despite ranking 26th at his position in snaps with 255.

When you break it down on a per-snap basis, it becomes clear that Quinnen is in a different stratosphere.

  • 15.09% pressure rate (1st, 2.5% higher than next closest)
  • 3.77% sack rate (1st, 1.6% higher than next closest)
  • 4.31% defensive stop rate (25th)
  • 11.76% impact play rate (4th)

Against the pass, Quinnen has been on a different level. I’ll detail later how Quinnen’s good-not-great run stop rate is underselling how dominant he has really been in that phase. Some people may not appreciate how good Williams has been over the first half of the season.

Quinnen Williams is on another level as a pass rusher

Saying Quinnen Williams is having a great year as a pass rusher would be a massive understatement.

Here’s how his pressure rate ranks among all defensive tackles with at least 350 snaps from 2016 to 2022 (minimum snap count of 125 for 2022 season):

Pressure Rate = (Total Pressures/Total Pass Rush Snaps)

  1. 18.15% Aaron Donald (2018)
  2. 17.37% Aaron Donald (2017)
  3. 17.22% Aaron Donald (2020)
  4. 15.89% Fletcher Cox (2018)
  5. 15.09% Quinnen Williams (2022)
  6. 15.00% Aaron Donald (2016)
  7. 14.91% Chris Jones (2021)
  8. 14.84% Geno Atkins (2016)
  9. 14.46% Stephon Tuitt (2020)
  10. 14.45% John Franklin-Myers (2020)

Since 2016, Williams’s ability to win as a pass-rusher is bested only by three Aaron Donald seasons and Fletcher Cox’s 2018 season. Also, take note of the man in the No. 10 spot: fellow Jets defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers, whose 2020 season on the interior was tremendous.

Here is where Williams’s sack rate ranks with the same criteria.

Sack Rate = (Total Sacks/Total Pass Rush Snaps)

  1. 3.77% Quinnen Williams (2022)
  2. 3.60% Aaron Donald (2018)
  3. 3.11% Akiem Hicks (2021)
  4. 3.10% Chris Jones (2018)
  5. 3.00% Cameron Heyward (2016)

Williams has 5.0 sacks in the box score, but two of those are half-sacks, so he has really been in on six sacks. With those six sacks (1st among DT) coming over just 159 pass-rush snaps (25th), his sack rate of 3.77% is unprecedented for a defensive tackle in recent memory.

While it’s only six weeks, Williams is playing at a level that only Aaron Donald has attained over the last six seasons. That’s how dominant he’s been.

Just to play devil’s advocate, Donald’s peaks have been higher than Quinnen’s. Williams has a 17.09% pressure rate and a 4.27% sack rate over the last four weeks. Comparatively, Donald’s best stretch from 2018, Weeks 4-7, had him at a 20.38% pressure rate and 5.10% sack rate.

However, Donald may be the GOAT of defensive linemen (and perhaps defensive players). But Quinnen commands that spot so far in 2022.

Quinnen’s dominance as a pass rusher shouldn’t cause people to forget how good of a run-stopper he is.

Quinnen Williams’s run defense is massively underrated

Quinnen has been getting plenty of love as a pass rusher, and it’s rightfully deserved. However, some believe his run defense has taken a step back because his stops were down last year and early this season.

That is simply not the case, as he’s a large reason the Jets’ defense is fourth-best in yards-per-carry allowed at 3.9. He’s creating massive penetration, which has plugged holes and allowed teammates to clean things up.

This is one of my favorite plays from Quinnen Williams. He takes on the double team and prevents the center from blocking Quincy Williams. Then, as Aaron Jones catches the toss, Quinnen is already shedding both players before tackling A.J. Dillon.

While Quinnen finished that play, this is what we’ve been seeing from him all season regardless of whether he is the player who makes the tackle. He has been moving and shedding offensive linemen with ease. Sometimes that penetration is just plugging the hole, causing the running back to redirect and allowing one of his teammates to get credit for the play.

So while Quinnen isn’t racking up defensive stops, he is still frequently winning his matchups and creating havoc in the backfield.

What sparked the change?

There are plenty of contributing reasons, but there are two key factors that caused this. The first is how Quinnen has changed.

The Jets told us all offseason that Quinnen Williams was in the best shape of his life. That has been the case, as both his explosiveness and power have been on a different level.

Quinnen has simply been beating opposing linemen off the snap and, once engaged, he is able to shed or throw them as he pleases. At times, like on this play, it doesn’t even seem that offensive linemen affect him.

It took some time, but Quinnen is looking like the player that earned the 23rd-highest Relative Athletic Score (RAS) in history among defensive tackle prospects at 9.84 out of 10. Considering he’s only 24 years old, it’s not shocking that it took time for him to develop his body.

The second key factor is that he is playing alongside the best coverage of his career. Over the first three years of his career, the Jets ranked 17th, 29th, and 30th in passing yards allowed per game. Now the Jets rank 12th with one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. In a game of inches, the extra half-second is everything.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

Squashing attempts to discredit Quinnen’s season

Some people will argue that Quinnen’s reduced snap count is the reason he’s so efficient. It is a possibility, as he’s only playing 65% of snaps while top defensive tackles usually play at least 70% – or even 80% for the best of the best.

However, Quinnen is historically better the more he plays. Excluding his rookie year, Williams has a 16.55% pressure rate, 2.88% sack rate, and 7.04% defensive stop rate across the four games that he played at least 70% of snaps.

These numbers hold up even when expanding the selection to 65% of snaps, which he’s done on 15 out of 32 games over the last three years. In those 15 games, Q’s numbers are still an elite 12.56% pressure rate, 2.66% sack rate, and 6.56% defensive stop rate. While a considerable drop-off from his play this season, those numbers would still be top-two in the NFL among defensive tackles this year.

Another argument bandied about is that Quinnen has been beating up bad offensive lines and quarterbacks. While he hasn’t been playing Hall of Famers every week, every player gets his easy matchups.

During Aaron Donald’s best stretch from 2018, Weeks 4-7, he played against worse offensive lines with quarterbacks that took longer to throw than Quinnen has. Great players dominate lesser competition, and that’s exactly what both Aaron Donald and Quinnen Williams have done.

Quinnen Williams will get PAID if he keeps this up

As things stand, Quinnen will likely become the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL not named Aaron Donald, who is making $31.7 million per year. However, there is a massive gulf between Donald and the second-highest paid, DeForest Buckner, who’s making $21 million per year.

Considering that he is dominant in both phases, Quinnen will likely earn a contract close to $25 million, give or take $2 million. This would place him between the third- and sixth-highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. That ranking will continue to drop as time goes on, as several elite defensive players are about to earn their fist big contract (Nick Bosa, Jeffrey Simmons, etc.).

The million-dollar question is if Quinnen can keep this level of play up.

He’s had dominant stretches in the past but failed to maintain that level of play over the season. Injuries have derailed his season in the past, as he’s missed eight of 55 possible games (14.5%). The Jets will also need to make a decision regarding their rotation. Could they justify paying someone $25 million when they’re on the bench for 35% of the snaps?

These questions will be answered in time. The Jets have Williams under contract through 2023 and could use the franchise tag, so there isn’t a major rush. Several top defensive players (e.g., Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt, and Derwin James) didn’t sign their contracts until their fifth seasons. A contract extension likely won’t occur until the offseason at the earliest.

However, the Jets should make sure to reward their best and third-longest-tenured player—because if they don’t, someone else will.

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