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Quinnen Williams is the kind of defensive tackle the NFL hasn’t really seen before

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Retired defensive end Stephen White can’t think of any player who compares to the Jets’ Williams, a nose tackle who can rush the passer — and do so much more.

The New York Jets picked Quinnen Williams third overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about the Alabama DT ahead of the draft:

Quinnen Williams did something we should all be impressed by at this year’s NFL Combine. At 4.83 seconds, he ran the fourth-fastest 40 time for a 300+ pound defensive lineman at the combine since 2003. That is a remarkable feat. However, more so than his straight-line speed, it was Williams’ lateral quickness that jumped off the screen when I watched his tape.

He was a wrecking ball in college stunting sideways.

I’m not sure I have ever seen a defensive tackle prospect be as productive as Williams was moving laterally. He has this uncanny ability to side-step offensive linemen and make them miss with a quick arm-over. This was both against the run and the pass.

[How’d the Jets pick stack up? 2019 NFL Draft first round grades]

I’m generally not a big proponent of arm-overs — especially for guys who aren’t at least 6’5, because I think rip moves are more efficient — but damn if Williams didn’t make me second-guess myself. I mean his success rate with arm-overs was off the charts, and it is obvious that it’s a move he has spent a lot of time and effort in perfecting. He is both explosive and efficient with it, which made it close to impossible for the college offensive linemen to block.

It’s a credit to Alabama’s coaching staff that they recognized Williams’ unique physical gifts and not only had him stunting a lot, but also had him lining up all over the place — from zero nose, to a cocked nose, to a 2i (inside shade of the guard), to a three-technique — so that he could really showcase those gifts.

Opposing offensive lines had to constantly be aware of where Williams was aligned and where he might end up after the ball was snapped.

You might be a guard minding your own business, thinking the center was going to handle Williams; then the next thing you know he is all up in your grill making you look silly on the way to making a tackle in the backfield.

He was so sudden that most of the cats trying to block him never stood a chance.

Williams’ signature move is much tricker than it looks.

But it wasn’t just his athletic ability that showed up on tape. Williams also employed some top-notch technique and basically weaponized his athleticism. His arm-overs were so effective because of how consistently precise he was with that move. In one smooth motion he would either swipe the blocker’s hands with his outside hand, or club their shoulder with his outside hand, turn his hips toward that blocker, then fluidly execute the arm-over with his inside arm — all in the blink of an eye.

I wish I had the end zone copy of a lot of these plays in super slow motion because that is about the only way you can actually see everything that goes into him winning with that move. That would help you, the reader, truly appreciate those wins even more. For now just take my word for it: what Williams makes look easy and effortless, is, in reality, incredibly difficult to pull off.

Let me note that as a former coach for a short while a long time ago, I loved how Williams finished his arm-overs by coming down hard with his inside arm on the back of the blocker’s outside arm to make sure they couldn’t try to hold on to him. He also tended to finish that off with a rip move for good measure, and as a big-time proponent of finishing every move with a rip, I was definitely giddy about that.

When I said weaponize, the thing you need to understand is his arm-over move was effective in every single game I watched, across a variety of different blockers, and against both the run and the pass. It is, as far as I can tell, his go-to move and, from what I’ve seen, he will very likely see similar success with it in the pros.

No matter where he lines up, he’ll make life hell for offensive linemen.

At the same time, I want to make it clear that Williams was far from a one-trick pony.

One of the best things about Alabama moving Williams around that much was being able to see how he would hold up in different alignments on the defensive line. I can’t speak for how well he would do lined up anywhere outside of an offensive tackle, as I only saw him lined up at a five-technique or wider on one single play in the four games that I watched.

However, anywhere from a three-technique to a zero nose?

Williams had a full can of whup ass waiting for you. And it looked like he got free refills.

I truly enjoyed seeing what Williams could do when he was lined up in the gaps, but he also more than held his own when Alabama had him in heavy or head-up alignments as well. His functional strength was excellent, and his exemplary technique extended far beyond just his arm-overs.

He was great with his hands while taking on run blocks, and Williams was usually able to get vertical push into the backfield when a team was bold enough to try to block him one on one. Oh, and while some of his “prettiest” highlights are from him running around people, don’t get it twisted, Williams is not a finesse player.

He does not shy away at all from the dirty work of being an interior defensive lineman. In fact, he actually embraces it.

Hell, if you just wanted a true nose tackle, you could do a lot worse than Williams in this draft or any other in the last decade for that matter.

Williams is quick to recognize and react, which separates him from the pack.

I swear, take away the pass rushing and he would still be one helluva prospect. The way he manhandled centers as a zero nose was absolutely magnificent.

Like all legitimate nose tackles, Williams was able to hold the point well against double-teams, too.

His mix of power, quickness, and technique just about ensures that he will be productive against the run as a pro, if nothing else.

He ended up with five tackles for a loss in four games, and he had several other plays where he set up tackles for a loss for his teammates. He just knew how to get good penetration into the backfield to blow shit up.

Another thing that I liked about his tape was how good Williams was at quickly diagnosing blocking schemes, counter runs away from him in particular. On those plays, what is supposed to happen is that the guard across from Williams is supposed to pull inside and across the formation to block a defender on the other side of the center, while the center blocks down hard on Williams to keep him from being able to follow the pulling guard and make a play in the backfield.

What was actually happening was Williams would read the guard pulling, then, before the center could pin him backside, Williams would step laterally and quickly cross in front of the center’s face so that he could get to the other side of the formation too, and get back in on the play.

Those counter plays clearly exemplified how well Williams was able to marry his athleticism with his technique. Most defensive tackles simply aren’t quick enough in recognizing blocking schemes to be able to pull that off, let alone quick enough physically to be able to do so. That’s especially true for most nose tackles, but that’s also what sets Williams apart as a prospect.

He’s the rare nose tackle who can be stop the run AND rush the passer.

Something else that I noticed after watching his tape a few times is that Williams was rarely on the ground unless one of the offensive linemen tackled him or stuck their foot out to trip him. To me that speaks well of his balance and his core strength to be able to stay on his feet so well even though he was stunting laterally a lot. That can be the difference between a guy who just puts himself in position to make plays, and a guy who is actually able to finish off those plays.

Now, I have long said that I’m personally against taking a true nose tackle in the first round unless they can rush the passer. There are very few nose tackles who can do that, however. Vita Vea is, I believe, the only nose tackle I have recommended to go in the first round since I’ve been doing these draft profiles, but he was special in that he was so damn strong that he could consistently get good push with power rushes back into the a quarterback’s face, even on early downs.

With Williams, while I believe he could play all over the defensive line, including maybe even at five-technique, I don’t think a team would go wrong by sticking him at nose tackle on “run downs.” He showed me that he can make a ton of plays against the run there, and he has the size for it at 6’3 and 303 pounds.

More importantly, however, he also showed he can get pressure as a nose tackle on a pretty regular basis.

I know a lot of teams have their third-down packages where they bring in a pass rusher or two and take out their nose tackle, but imagine for a second that you didn’t have to do that. Imagine having a dude you could line up in the A gaps or head up on the center on first and second down, who was good enough to be the anchor of your run defense, but who could also get quick pressure against early-down passes.

Now you don’t have to worry about teams trying to run hurry-up when you have your “run stopper” in the game because he is also your “pass rusher.” And you wouldn’t have to worry about a bunch of substitutions up front third-and-long, either.

A nose tackle who routinely commanded a double-team as a pass rusher would be a helluva deal, and it could seriously open things up for a team that already has a good three-technique.

At the same time, you don’t have to play Williams at nose tackle. In a base 3-4 scheme where he moves around a lot like he did in college, Williams could be a serious damn headache inside. That would be especially true for a team that likes to stunt a lot.

Or you could just stick him at three-technique in a base 4-3 scheme and watch teams try and fail to keep him from shooting into their backfield play after play.

I’m NOT comparing him to Aaron Donald, BUT Williams is pretty special.

When you look at the way he uses his hands, his footwork, the way he turns his hips, the way he recognizes blocking schemes, and how he escapes off of blocks, Williams is as about as polished a defensive tackle prospect as you are going to see coming out of college. Maybe that means his ceiling is a little lower than other guys who are a bit more raw. It also means he is going to be ready to not only start from day one, but actually play at a high level right away in the NFL.

I’d take that trade-off in a heartbeat.

Looking at his film, there aren’t even very many areas where I would say he needs to improve. I did have him down for a few loafs, but they were usually on plays that he had almost no chance of making. Other than that, I could nitpick a play here, or a play there, but nothing negative showed up on Williams’ tape on anything remotely resembling a consistent basis.

Williams is so good and so unique that I don’t think I can come up with a current or former NFL player to compare him to. I’ve already said I don’t think its fair to compare any young defensive lineman to Aaron Donald, and that holds true for Williams as well. Hell, for as great as Williams’ 4.83 40 was, Donald ran his in a blazing 4.68!

But that doesn’t mean Williams isn’t a freak in his own right.

I want you to try to think of a guy who was/is a big-time run stopper as a nose tackle in the NFL, who was also as much of a threat as a pass rusher as Williams is. Your list is probably going to be very, very short.

But, again, and I can’t stress this enough: He doesn’t have to play nose all the time, either. That’s the kicker!

Williams won’t have to wait long on draft night to hear his name called.

When Donald came out, I said if he were a couple of inches taller he would have been the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft (and that teams at the top should have considered him anyway). Well, I’m not saying that Williams should go No. 1, but teams can’t hide behind his height or his weight as a reason to not do it this time around.

Williams has the “right” size, he has the “right” measurable athleticism, and he for damn sure has the “right” film for the NFL. Now it just comes down to which team at the top of the draft is willing to take him.

Barring injury, Quinnen Williams is going to be an absolute monster at defensive tackle in the league from his first season on, and I cannot wait to see him balling on the next level.


For the purposes of this breakdown I watched Quinnen Williams play against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU, and Georgia. Those represented the third, fourth, ninth, and 13th games on Alabama’s schedule last season, respectively.