Quinnen Williams … Joins the List of the Best

Lyn Scarbrough

January 09, 2019 at 3:20 pm.

Nov 24, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (92) pressures Auburn Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) during the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 24, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (92) pressures Auburn Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham (8) during the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Samuels, Andre Smith, Barrett Jones and Cam Robinson – some of the greatest linemen ever to wear the crimson jersey.

Bill Stanfill (Georgia), Tracy Rocker (Auburn), Glenn Dorsey (LSU) and Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) – some of the top linemen ever to play in the Southeastern Conference.

All of these former All-Americans won the Outland Trophy, awarded annually by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) to the “best college football interior lineman in the United States.”

To that illustrious list of all-time great the name of Quinnen Williams has been added. His play during the 2018 season certainly merited the recognition. But when the sophomore defensive tackle from Birmingham was finishing his prep career at Wenonah High School in Birmingham, it would not have seemed likely that he would even be an Outland Trophy candidate, much less be the winner, in his redshirt sophomore season.

It’s not that Williams wasn’t a high school star. In the 2014 season for the Dragons, he had 85 tackles, 15 sacks and five forced fumbles. After his senior year, he was ranked the No. 2 defensive lineman in his home-state behind Marlon Davidson, and was the No. 4 in-state player overall.  He initially committed to Auburn, then flipped late to the Tide.

But on the national scene, there were a number of players at his position with higher ratings. The top 5-star defensive linemen nationally to sign letters of intent in February, 2016 were Rashan Gary (Michigan) and Dexter Lawrence (Clemson). The top defensive lineman to sign with an SEC team was Derrick Brown (Auburn). Williams wasn’t even the highest rated player at the position in his own signing class; that honor went to Raekwon Davis. Sixteen defensive tackles were ranked ahead of him by 247Sports.

But when the 2018 Outland Trophy winner was announced, the name called was Quinnen Williams. His almost overnight evolution from part-timer in 2017 to national award winner in 2018 was impressive.

“Quinnen played well for us last year (2017),” head coach Nick Saban told ESPN staff writer Alex Scarborough before the team’s semifinal playoff win over Oklahoma. “Didn’t get to play all the time, but he’s got initial quickness. He’s a smart player. He’s always well-prepared. Really practices well every day.”

Saban summed up how Williams progressed.

“He has probably improved more and played with more consistency of anybody that we have on defense,” he said.

During the 2017 season, he played in all 14 games, but was only in for 151 snaps. He had 20 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. In the 2018 season, his first as a full-time starter, through the first 13 games he had 67 total tackles (42 solo), along with 18 tackles for loss, eight sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. He even scored Alabama’s first safety (against Missouri) since 2015.

He was the leader of a unit that finished in the national Top 10 in scoring defense and total defense. His 96.1 grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest of any defensive player in the country. He was a consensus first-team All-American.

It didn’t take long for Williams to demonstrate his 2018 progress. In the season opening demolition of Louisville, he had 3.5 tackles for loss. He had 2.5 sacks against LSU, then had a sack in each of the next four wins (Mississippi State, Citadel, Auburn, Georgia).

Of course, Williams’ teammates were thrilled as his defensive dominance increased throughout the season. Even more, the Tide offensive linemen got some consolation.

“I think we’re honestly a little relieved as an (offensive) line that we’re like, ‘OK, no one else can block him either,’” left tackle Jonah Williams told the Associated Press in October.

The junior offensive lineman from Folsom, Calif., compared the sophomore defensive lineman to having to block “a nearly 300-pound bar of soap.”

CBS broadcaster Brad Nessler shared that description during a radio show with Saban after the Tide’s impressive 29-0 shutout of LSU.

The head coach explained Williams’ strengths which Tide coaches realized during the recruiting process.

“We saw the athleticism, but he was a little undersized,” he said, explaining a possible reason why the 260-pound Williams was not higher rated. The Outland winner has added 25 pounds for the 2018 season without hurting his speed or strength.

“He’s a lot stronger,” Saban told Nessler. “He’s still very athletic; he’s got good initial quickness and he’s got more power than most people give him credit for.”

Even though Williams was not on the postseason honors radar to begin the season, he received a lot of praise as the season progressed.

In early November, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah called him “the most dominant player on the field in every game that I study.”

Among the highest compliments for Williams came from Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn heading into the season’s final game in Tuscaloosa.

“(Williams) is playing at an extremely high level,” said the coach who had Williams’ commitment early in the recruiting cycle. “He’s very concerning in the run game and probably even more concerning in the pass game.”

Malzahn also realized Williams’ skills early on.

“You know that a guy’s got talent when you recruit someone,” he said. “Any time that a defense can get pressure up the middle, that changes things and he’s consistently done that, even when he’s double-teamed. He’s got a gift.”

Many people, especially FWAA voters, also acknowledged Williams’ unique gift when they rewarded him with the Outland Trophy. And, even the four-touchdown defeat in the national championship game doesn’t detract from his performance during the rest of the season.

For sure, the 2018 campaign was special for Quinnen Williams, now forever acknowledged as one of the all-time best.