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NY Jets: Did Quinnen Williams really take a ‘step back’ in 2023?

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Quinnen Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

Did Quinnen Williams regress for the New York Jets in 2023?

Quincy Williams and Sauce Gardner were the New York Jets’ first-team All-Pros in 2023. Williams was the Jets’ team MVP. However, the Jets’ most valuable defensive player continues to be Quinnen Williams. He’s the player offenses most fear and account for the most. His 70% double-team rate led the entire NFL.

Still, there’s a perception out there that Quinnen took a step back after breaking out in 2022. That’s why the attention is on Quincy more than Quinnen.

Is that perception accurate, though? How did Quinnen perform in 2023?

Elite run defense

In 2022, Williams ranked seventh out of 73 qualified interior defensive linemen (min. 200 run defense snaps) with a 77.7 Pro Football Focus run defense grade. In 2023, he led the position (75 qualifiers) with a 90.4 grade. His run stop rate (run defense tackles that constitute a failure for the offense) increased from 6.8% (40th) to 11.7% (5th), and his average depth of tackle dropped from 2.6 (43rd) to 0.8 (1st).

It’s not that Williams was a bad run defender in 2022. He was excellent. It’s just that he took his game to another level in 2023. Run defense has been his strength since he came into the league, but he’s gotten better and better despite facing high rates of double-teams.

Even better pass rush

Williams was most visible in 2022 because of his 12 sacks. That number shrank to 5.5 in 2023, leading many Jets fans to think that he took a step back as a pass rusher.

However, it’s worth noting that Williams’ pressure rate actually increased significantly in 2023 — from 12.4% to 15.1%, second among interior defensive linemen only to Chris Jones. Williams had 45 more pass rush snaps in 2023 than in 2022 but generated 18 more pressures. He took full advantage of his increased playing time.

Why did Williams’ sacks decrease in 2023? Well, in part because the edge rushers took his sacks. If you combine Williams’, Carl Lawson’s, Jermaine Johnson’s, and Micheal Clemons’ sacks in 2022 (24), you get almost the same number as Williams, Johnson, and Bryce Huff in 2023 (22) with similar combined pass rush snaps (1,148 vs. 1,244).

In general, who actually brings the quarterback down is based on scheme. ESPN’s Troy Aikman claimed that Williams called himself “the highest-paid decoy in the NFL,” a statement Williams categorically denied. He certainly was not a decoy given his pressure rate, but the Jets did often use him to eat up double teams and give his teammates space to operate.

Tackling troubles

The one blip on the radar for Williams was his tackling. In 2022, he ranked in the 55th percentile among interior defensive linemen with a 9.8% missed tackle rate. In 2023, that ranking dropped to the 17th percentile at 15.9%. While trying to tackle one-handed against double teams promotes misses, it’s still troubling for the Jets’ defense.

Why the lesser accolades?

Williams was a Pro Bowl starter in both 2022 and 2023. However, he was a first-team All-Pro in 2022 compared to no All-Pro honors in 2023. It’s pretty easy to trace that difference to his sack totals, as his other numbers were far superior in 2023 compared to 2022.

It’s also worth noting that Williams’ numbers were better than many of the All-Pro selections in 2023. While Chris Jones had a superior pressure rate, Aaron Donald (14.8%) did not. Nor did the second-teamers, Justin Madubuike (12.5%) or Dexter Lawrence (14.6%). Williams had a better run defense grade than all of them.

Furthermore, Williams picked up much of his production in the last three games of the season when the Jets were eliminated from playoff contention. Through 14 games, he had a 13.1% pressure rate before posting 19 pressures on 76 snaps (25%) in the last three weeks. By that time, Williams’ reputation as a decoy more than a producer had been solidified in the minds of many.

Ultimately, even the All-Pro team, which has more significance than Pro Bowl voting, is based largely on reputation and perception. Williams deserved it just as much if not more so in 2023, but he simply did not have the same visibility.

Looking ahead

Williams will face a steep test in 2024. He will have far weaker partners in the interior than in 2022-23. Sheldon Rankins, Quinton Jefferson, and Al Woods were significantly better than the combination of Javon Kinlaw and Leki Fotu. Therefore, Williams may be double-teamed at an even higher rate in 2024. He’s the only proven defensive tackle on the team.

Still, Williams performed even after Woods and Jefferson went down in 2023. Therefore, it’s fair to expect more of the same from him in 2024 despite adverse circumstances. Don’t worry, Jets fans: Williams is still an elite player. He may not put up the sack numbers, but with Haason Reddick (and possibly Will McDonald) in tow, the cumulative result could be the same or even better — with Williams as the engine.

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