The delightful education of New York Jets youngster Quinnen Williams
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The delightful yet obvious education of New York Jets youngster Quinnen Williams is one everybody, including Gregg Williams, notices.

Robby Sabo

FLORHAM PARK, NJ—There he was, standing tall, talking low, and making sure his education by way of football business and conduct matures along the right path. While the braces highlighting his uncontrollable smile shined brightest, Week 16 offered a more controlled feel than four or five months prior.

For any individual who met Quinnen Williams last summer, Friday at Florham Park served as a stark reminder that individual NFL personalities come in all shapes and sizes.

With the third pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the New York Jets graciously accepted the Alabama beast who moves like a video game player. Big Q is gifted with size, skill, strength and speed that, brought with it, tremendous expectations. The only problem is quite evident: the moment Roger Goodell called his name, Jets fans expected Aaron Donald 2.0… immediately.

It’s a major problem, at times, in this league. It’s especially a problem when a starving fanbase is thrown into the mix.

Williams’s unimpressive rookie stats—1.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, one fumble recovery, three tackles for loss and 24 total tackles—compounds the Jets fans’ pain. Another first-round interior defensive lineman, another bust at One Jets Drive.

Fortunately, those around the now-22-year-old kid don’t think along those lines. In fact, the Crimson Tide product has undergone a delightful education oblivious to the casual observer.

“A lot,” Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams answered when asked how improved the rookie big man is since the start of the 2019 campaign. “I think I mentioned this earlier in the year because he’s so young.”

Youth is the point. Maturity is a key concept in the kid’s journey.

Remember, (Quinnen) Williams hasn’t played a ton of football. Despite, of course, finding himself draft-eligible after his third year removed from high school ball, Williams didn’t fully bust out collegiately until his junior season.

After a red-shirt first campaign, Quinnen played in nine contests in 2017. The 2018 season saw him elevate his play to obscene levels, ultimately registering 8.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in 15 games.

In his first official training camp media spot, Williams couldn’t help but “play with himself.”

While, no question, a harmless and hilarious quote, the moment placed an emphatic exclamation point on the type of raw personality the NFL had just acquired.

After practice on Friday, in preparation for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Big Q’s maturation was evident. When asked why he played his best professional ball against Miami two games ago, the kid provided a mature, yet self-assessing answer.

“Just going out there and playing loose,” Williams said. “This whole season, man, I haven’t been playing the part to where my standards are.

“I have confidence in my play and confidence in my ability, so I just let loose.”

The situation he entered with the Jets is one of the worst any young defensive lineman could experience. Saddled with the worst edge-rushing situation in the NFL, (Gregg) Williams is forced to play backward. Instead of deploying a traditional inside-out identify that relies on a conventional four-man rush, he’s forced to play interior players such as Henry Anderson and Kyle Phillips on the edge while creating an identity centered around Jamal Adams and his defensive back henchman (Marcus Maye, Brian Poole).

After leading the league in rush defense for most of the season, a bend-but-don’t-break solution was required against the Miami Dolphins (that barely worked), and a humbling performance against Lamar Jackson and Greg Roman’s scheme further exposed the edge-needy Jets. Time and again, despite excellent coaching, edge players found themselves crashed too far down and entirely too unathletic to handle the Baltimore Ravens quarterback—even when reading the zone-scheme correctly.

Such a severe handicap destroys the ceiling of every other member of the unit, including Quinnen Williams.

What’s encouraging is his anti-down-in-the-dumps attitude. Don’t think for a moment that’s stopped the kid from showcasing his intelligence and his defensive coordinator witnesses it on a daily basis.

“Unless you’ve had a time to sit down and just talk with him, he is very intelligent and the fact that he can play four different positions for us, not just right and left, conceptually four different positions” (Gregg) Williams said. “That doesn’t happen very often with rookies, to be able to do that. He’s a good, young man and you’re only going to see him get better.

When discussing the team’s Week 16 opponent, Quinnen went right to the veteran leadership he’s ready to face.

“They definitely got a great O-line. A lot of veterans. The interior three we play (have at least) eight years apiece and have a lot of veterans up front. They have a great O-line.”

Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro all do, indeed, possess at least eight years of experience under their belts, respectively.

Perhaps the greatest maturity lies within ignoring the outside noise. A common theme in North Jersey, revolving around both football teams, is the added opponent. Not only do the Jets and Giants have to take on the other NFL opponent, but they have to also overcome the media. Young Quinnen hits the right notes as it relates to blocking out the criticism.

“No, I really don’t pay attention to those things,” Williams said. “They can’t play football… well they can play football, but they can’t go out there and do what (we) do. So I really don’t pay attention to the negative comments and negative things that are said about the team or being said about me. They can’t control the wins or losses.

“I played for Alabama. A lot of people hate Alabama. You get criticism all the time. You just gotta know who you are, you gotta know the person criticizing you doesn’t know the X’s and O’s the way you know X’s and O’s.”

Joe Douglas, G.M. Joe T-Shirt

Friday marked Quinnen Williams’s 22nd birthday. Gregg Williams told the media his teammates were already busting him a bit on this special occasion. Interestingly, nobody posed a birthday question to Big Q when made available.

Perhaps Quinnen has already raised his media game. Maybe his enlightening and intelligent answers did the trick. Instead of viral Madden moments and birthday-plan questions sure to go wrong, the latest Jets first-round rookie provided intelligent answers marking hope for year No. 2 and beyond.

Who are we kidding? The prior statement can only be true to a solid degree. While intelligent and now-professional beyond his years, a personality like Quinnen Williams comes around only once in a while. It’s why his answer to what he misses most about the collegiate game rings so true.

“Pizza,” Williams said with a smile.

Aaron Donald 2.0, he is not. A double-digit sack artist in year one, he cannot claim. But Quinnen Williams’s maturity game and intelligence simply cannot be questioned in late December, and he’s earned it while battling through a challenging rookie season.

It’s an obvious, yet extremely delightful education that’s unveiled itself over several months.

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