Every year it seems there is a draft prospect who transcends the talent level of his peers. A prospect who can be seen as nearly flawless and destined to become a star at the next level. In recent years prospects such as Myles Garrett and Saquon Barkley have sat atop my draft boards. Both reached a level as a prospect where I would be confident calling them sure-fire superstars. Who is that prospect in this year’s draft class? For me, it’s Quinnen Williams the dominant defensive lineman out of Alabama.
For many, it is Nick Bosa. The former Ohio State edge rusher with NFL bloodlines. On my grading scale, 90+ is indicative of an elite prospect. The younger Bosa brother graded out above that threshold for me. However if you were the ask me who the one sure-fire superstar is in the 2019 NFL draft class, I would not say Bosa. For me, that prospect is Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Do not take this as a slight against Bosa, rather an endorsement of how good I believe Williams is
Last year, I referred to Saquon Barkley as a ‘generation defining’ player. Although it may be easier to consider a running back a defining player of their era, I believe Q can becdome one of the premier defensive players in the NFL for the next decade. Players like Aaron Donald, Chris Jones and Geno Atkins have proven quick interior penetrators can be just as effective as edge rushers when pressuring QBs. Williams enters the league at a time where the value and demand for interior defensive lineman have never been higher.
The days of the space eating, run stopping interior defensive lineman are over. With the NFL’s increasing dependence on the passing game, interior linemen have evolved. Yet, those who develop the art of collapsing the pocket up the middle are a rare breed. This places incredible value on players with such a skillset. Fletcher Cox, Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald have cashed in on huge contracts, bringing over $16 million annually. Thanks in large part to their ability to disrupt the pocket up the middle. Comparatively, interior defenders that have built their resume as run stoppers take home significantly less. PFFs top ranked run defender over the last 4 years, Damon Harrison, takes home an average annual salary of $9 million. His 9 career sacks were topped by Donald, Cox, Chris Jones and DeForest Buckner last season alone.
For interior defensive lineman coming into the league, the ability to rush the passer is a must. This is where Williams excels. During his dominant 2018 campaign at Alabama, he was tied for the lead amongst all interior defensive lineman in QB hits and sacks (24 combined). The production speaks for itself, but the traits are what really draw you in with Williams and what makes him a potential superstar in the league.
The pass rushing traits that pop when watching his tape are his upfield quickness, hand use and flexibility. For an interior defender, this is an almost unlockable combination of traits. Few prospects at the position posses such a potent toolbox of pass rushing traits. This arsenal of skills is what enabled Q to dominate SEC offensive lines and is the reason his pro projection offers such clarity.
Q’s upfield quickness almost surprises you when you first put on the tape. He plays out of an unorthodox stance that you think would limit his ability to explode in his initial 3 steps. Typically, you see a defensive lineman with their weight on their forward hand. Quinnen often lines up a little more coiled up in more of a squat stance. In spite of this, Williams has shown great consistency in his get off. At the combine, Q put his athletic ability on display running a 4.83 second 40-yard dash. Putting him 6th overall in the DL group at the combine that includes at least two full time edge players.
In the above play against Georgia, you can see how Q’s upfield quickness can translate to quick pressure up the middle. Here Q is lined up in an outside shade of the right guard. In a third down situation like this and with Q’s pre snap alignment, the guard will be focused on defending his outside shoulder. Typically you will see defensive lineman find the blockers edge to the outside and establish a half man relationship with the guard in a situation like this.
Anticipating the guard to set up accordingly, Q takes a step upfield directly stressing the guards outside shoulder. This forces the guard to slide to his right. To take advantage of the guards set, Q quickly flashes across the blockers face and attacks the inside shoulder where space has opened up due to the center following the stunt. This play looks like it was drawn up to isolate the guard and allow Quinnen a one on one matchup with a 2 way go. Q then shows great quickness upfield and towards the QB. Clearing the guard with his lateral quickness to shoot across his face and burst to close on the QB upfield.
Another area where Quinnen excels as a rusher is with his hand use. Williams has really mastered the nuance of playing defensive line. Showing the reactive quickness and refinement in his hand use to take advantage of blockers sets and win his matchup. He executes moves with great quickness and violence and shows he can win with swims, clubs and rips. It’s not just the hand use and arsenal of moves Quinnen has mastered that are impressive, but also his recognition of when to use moves and how to attack his man.
In these two reps against LSU Q wins is able to beat attempted double teams with his elite hand use. In the first clip, Q manages to split the double team by quickly swatting the first blockers hands and cycling his initial move into a swim move to beat the center. Notice how quickly and precisely Williams’ hands operate to ensure he protects his chest plate. This play highlights Q’s exceptional recognition and hand use. To read the double team and so quickly cycle his hand moves to beat both blockers is rare for a college player.
The second play is almost identical. However, this time Q is being doubled by the tackle and the guard. He hits the guard initially with a club/swim combo and attacks his inside shoulder. Then, he reacts to the help coming from the tackle by cycling right into another club swim. This time working against the outside half of his man, he clubs with his right arm and brings his left over on the swim.
It’s an Aaron Donald esque sequence. One player overwhelming the best efforts of two players to block him. The fact Williams is able to defeat this double simply with his technical prowess is incredibly impressive. In fact, here is a pretty much identical rep from Donald. He beats the double team by cycling a club/rip combo just as Williams does in the previous clip.
Many college players rely on athleticism to split double teams and squeeze their way through the gap between the blockers. Williams ability to win with his hands is rare and bodes well for his pro projection. In the NFL Quinnen will need to rely on his technique to constantly win and he is already incredibly advanced in this area.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Williams is just a technique and speed based rusher. He is also capable of collapsing the pocket with leverage and power. Williams does a great job maintaining a low pad height off the ball and converts this leverage and quickness into devastating power rushes.
Here Q uses a violent stab to the blockers chest plate to knock him off balance. He then extends and drives his feet to walk him back to the QB. This shows the violence in his hands and natural ability to bull rush as a result of excellent leverage and drive in his lower body. Highlighting how Quinnen can win with speed and power on the interior.
The final pass rushing trait I want to highlight with Williams is his flexibility. You may not typically associate flexibility with 300lb+ defensive linemen, but it is an incredibly important trait to possess in order to be an effective interior rusher. Flexibility for iDL players is about finding the blockers edge and reducing your surface area enough to keep your frame clean going around him. It can also show up when looking to flatten your rush attempt and work towards the QB. Looking to dip your shoulder and play with your feet out away from your frame, reducing the area available for the blocker to land his hands on you.
While Quinnen is a phenomenal pass rusher for an interior defensive lineman, what makes him a rare prospect is how complete his game is. In addition to his pass rushing prowess, Williams is a dominant run defender. In 2018, he led the SEC in tackles for loss or no gain. A testament to his ability as a run defender and an indicator of how complete his game is. Leading the SEC in pressures by an interior lineman and tackles for loss/no gain is a remarkable achievement considering the strength of competition.
In the run game, Williams wins with his upfield quickness, recognition and hands use. He is able to use his quickness to shoot gaps and get early penetration, but can also hold the POA with his strength and create space for his LB’s. Many defensive linemen will be either a penetrator who relies on quickness to win in the run game or a block eater who holds the POA and uses their power to reestablish the LOS. What makes Q so impressive against the run is that he can do both.
Due to his excellent processing skills and burst off the line, Williams is able to wreak havoc in the run game. This is especially true when blockers are asked to shift laterally to reach Williams. In the below play, Williams recognises the guard trying to reach him and uses his quickness to stay ahead of the block and penetrate the backfield. With the center and right guard pulling, Williams has no right disrupting this play as the weak side defensive tackle. But due to his suddenness and recognition, he makes the play in the backfield.
Williams isn’t just a quick penetrator against the run. He is balanced and strong at the POA and capable of re-establishing the LOS. Here Williams takes on a double team from the center and guard. The play is going away from Williams but he splits the double and uses his power to drive the blocker back, finding his way to the ball carrier.
The list of concerns associated with selecting Williams is short and that is why I feel there is such clarity in his pro projection. He posses clearly translatable traits with no glaring weaknesses.
There are instances on film where Quinnen leaves sacks on the field because he fails to break down and come to balance. He pursues upfield so quickly and aggressively that sometimes QBs will escape as he runs right by them.
At times Q will pop up against both the pass and run. Killing his rush attempt or leading to him getting framed in the run game. Typically you see him fire off the ball low, but at times his pad height gets high as he moves upfield. This most prominent when he is trying to slip between double teams or after his initial rush hasn’t been effective.
When it’s all said and done, I expect Williams to be the best player to come out of this class. He has a tantalizing combination of polish in the technical aspects of the game and pairs this with plus recognition and athletic ability. Upon entering the league, Williams has a couple of minor flaws he needs to clean up. But finding players this technically refined coming out of college is rare and why I believe Williams is a special prospect. Of all the prospects in the 2019 draft that I have watched, Williams is the top player and the surefire superstar from this class.