A wide smile appeared on Quinnen Williams’ face as he talked about meeting professional football players for the first time, and it didn’t go away any time soon.
Williams has joined that fraternity after the Jets used the No. 3 pick in last month’s draft to take the 303-pound defensive lineman from Alabama. But he is living a dream, and couldn’t help but get starstruck the first time he met Leonard Williams in a California gym in the winter, or Le’Veon Bell, Sam Darnold or Jamal Adams at the Jets practice facility this week.
“Seven months ago, I didn’t know I was going to start (at Alabama) and to be in this position right now, I’m like, ‘Bro, this is crazy,’” Williams said. “So when I get to meet people, I’m like, ‘That’s dope.’
“I met Le’Veon Bell [Thursday] and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s Le’Veon Bell, the No. 1 running back in the NFL.’ I met Sam Darnold, that’s crazy. Jamal Adams. I got Jamal Adams on my [Madden] Ultimate Team.”
Soon enough, Williams will make his debut on Madden and on an NFL field. He may act like a big kid off of it, but on it, Williams expects to be a disruptive force.
The Jets do, too.
Williams is filled with humility, boyish exuberance, hunger and talent. He had 71 tackles, 19.5 for a loss and eight sacks as Alabama’s starting nose guard. Some considered Williams the best defensive player in the draft, and he can’t wait to prove it.
“At Alabama I played it all,” Williams said. “One game, I probably played five, six positions. But this is not Alabama. Bro, wherever they put me, I’m going to go out there and try to dominate. If they put me at kickoff return, I’m going to go crazy. They put me anywhere, I’m going to try and dominate.”
Williams’ versatility was another draw for the Jets. He could line up all over the line in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive and always changing looks.
Quinnen Williams’ arrival is expected to take some pressure and attention off of defensive end Leonard Williams, who hasn’t lived up to the hype after being the No. 6 pick in 2015. Williams has totaled just 17 sacks in 64 games. With Quinnen Williams on the line, Leonard could make more of a mark on the game.
“Anytime you can have a talented player next to Leonard that’s a positive for him because he attracts a lot of attention. I know that’s how I used to look at Leonard,” said Adam Gase, who was familiar with Leonard Williams from facing him six times the last three years as the Dolphins coach.
“We tried to get four hands on him as much as possible. We never wanted him to get singled up. We felt like we were in trouble if he was.”
The thought of that has the Jets’ excited about what kind of impact Quinnen Williams will have overall on the defense. Leonard Williams, Adams and newly signed C.J. Mosley will lead an improved defense that should be even stronger if Quinnen is the presence the Jets believe he can be.
“Anytime you have a guy that we see as a really talented player, a guy that put a lot of good tape out there in his last year of college, add that to the group we already have, I think it’s really going to be something that can help our defense, especially up the middle,” Gase said. “The push up the middle is going to be big for us, especially in this division.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who was very influential in Gase’s career and continues to be a mentor to him, said recently that Williams is a perfect fit for the NFL game and the way it’s played today. When he was asked about that, Williams just said he is different than most nose guards
“You got to have defensive tackles who can rush 50 times,” Williams said. “You got to have defensive tackles on the inside who can stop the run and rush the passer almost 50 times a game.”
As confident as Williams is, he has a lot of work to do and he will need help adjusting to the NFL — and a refreshing thing is he knows it.
Williams plans to pick the brains of veterans in his D-Line room, Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon, as well as other players on the defensive side of the football to ask what it takes to be a professional, to beat your man and to be make an impact.
“I was a five-star athlete going to Alabama,” Williams said. “It was a humbling experience because going to Alabama you’re not the only five star. Just like coming here I’m not the only first-rounder. So you got to learn different things. You got to learn different ways. You got to learn the standards. You got to learn the process.
“The same way I had to learn at Alabama is the same way I’m going to have to learn up here so I can be a great player in the NFL for a long time.”
If he is, a future NFL player could be starstruck the first time he meets Quinnen Williams.