2019 NFL Draft: Quinnen Williams confident, stress-free before combine

2019 NFL Draft: Quinnen Williams confident, stress-free before combine

Editor’s note: NBC Sports Bay Area will dive deep into top defensive NFL draft prospects the 49ers could select at No. 2 overall or the Raiders might take at No. 4. This is the first in a series of stories about former Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams leading up to the draft.

NEWBURY PARK -- Quinnen Williams has a Twitter app on his iPhone and isn’t afraid to use it. Same goes for Instagram these days.

The hulking Alabama defensive lineman doesn’t post much on social media, but he does scan his mentions enough to hear the buzz surrounding his path to the NFL draft.

It’s tough to criticize someone so likeable off the field and so dominant in the trenches. It’s hard to find fault in a prized talent and consensus top-five pick, but Williams detractors exist in dark corners of social media.

Alabama coach Nick Saban calls the chatter “rat poison” that’ll hurt you if you let it. Williams considers it a guilty pleasure. The 21-year-old Birmingham native hears the good and bad, but nothing sticks.

Spend time around Williams, and you’ll see why: This kid’s confidence is unwavering. So is his drive to improve, no matter what you say.

“I see it. I listen to it, because I get tagged so much on social media,” Williams said this week in an exclusive sit-down with NBC Sports Bay Area at Kobe Bryant’s athletic training academy. “I enjoy it sometimes, but I know it doesn’t mean anything. It’s like watching a movie. You know most things in a movie aren’t real, but you enjoy watching it anyway.

"That’s how I look at the mock drafts and all the media talk. Nothing that’s said is going to stop me from working hard.”

People are telling Williams how good he is these days, how high he’ll be drafted -- most believe he won’t make it to the Raiders at No. 4 -- and how great he’ll be at the next level, yet his ego remains firmly in check.

“I know I’m a huge draft prospect and this and that, but if I let that go to my head and not train and not focus, other guys working harder are going to pass me by,” Williams said. “…You can’t let winning or status give you a big head. That’s how you get beat.”

Williams knows full well how he got here, by working hard the Alabama way. He isn’t about to let up now, just because he’s enjoying life in the L.A. area training for next week’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Sure, he’s been to Malibu and dipped a toe in the Pacific. He has made an NFL Network appearance and met some famous folks out West. But he hasn’t sacrificed a minute’s work for something fun.

Williams is out here grinding in paradise, and believes he’s better for the experience. He has been working with skill players lately, trying to match their combine stats and times. If he can keep up with them athletically, Williams should be heads above his position group.

He played last year’s breakout season at 295 pounds -- he gained weight fast after switching from defensive end to tackle -- and was considered slippery over scary. He’s trying to become an agile yet imposing force on the defensive line.

“Right now, I feel like I’m a way better player now than I was coming into this process,” Williams said. “I lost a lot of body fat. I’m toned up, stronger and quicker because I’m leaner. I’m focused on body mass, and getting that Aaron Donald body.”

He was famously called a 300-pound bar of soap last year. That might not fit anymore.

“I’m a 302-pound ball of muscle now.”

A more technically proficient one at that. Williams isn’t just studying to pass combine tests. He's shoring up soft spots he identified through self scouting.

“I already know what my weaknesses are,” Wiliams said. “I don’t need other people to tell me that. I know the NFL scouts and coaches can see them and point them out, and I’m doing all I can to make those weaknesses strong. I don’t get into the negativity out there. That’s not me.”

Williams and other top NFL draft prospects are looking to show progress at next week’s combine, a weeklong job interview with individual athletic tests, medical examinations and one NFL team meeting after another.

[RELATED: Quinnen Williams reveals what he'll buy with first NFL paycheck]

It’s a grueling stretch for draft prospects, but Williams isn’t worried about any part of it. He’s living stress free and easy these days, soaking up every moment of this pre-draft process with complete faith that the hard work put in will help him realize a dream come draft day.

“I love it. I love all of this,” Williams said. “I’m really confident in what I do. I love football. It’s my life, and has been since I was 4 years old. It’s all I know. Working with Coach Saban and … all these D-line gurus, it made me fall more in love with the game.

"Now I’m getting a chance to go to the NFL, a place I’ve been dreaming about since I was 5, 6 years old. I get to meet people I’ve looked up to and eventually play against them. I honestly can’t wait.”

Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses


Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

The Raiders haven’t played a true home game in forever. That's true, even though the Silver and Black have two games left in a five-game stretch played away from Oakland that will define this season.

They have started it off well, with two quality wins in three attempts. The team has rallied together during this time, facing in-game adversity and practice-week setbacks head on. This group doesn’t wilt, finding ways to beat Indianapolis and Chicago after what could’ve been a demoralizing loss in Minnesota.

Head coach Jon Gruden deserves credit for guiding the Raiders through with expert game plans. The coaching staff and the locker room’s leadership core have kept the team together during tough times playing difficult opposition.

The path doesn’t get any easier as this road trip winds down. In fact, the competition ratchets up. The Raiders face Green Bay on Sunday and Houston the following week before returning to Oakland for a three-game homestand.

Yeah, that’s Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson in consecutive weeks. Those elite quarterbacks are as tough as they get, with an ability to score at will and perform well in the clutch.

The Raiders have scored 55 points in the last two games with a solid run game and efficient passing, with strong starts in both wins. That will be essential yet again if the Raiders are to continue performing well against a run of legitimate playoff contenders.

This two-game win streak, punctuated by an excellent win over the Bears in London, has brought positive press about the coaching staff and the team's toughness. The next two games could offer a reality check -- or densely pack the bandwagon. 

The Packers and Texans offer stiff competition to a Raiders team right in the thick of the AFC West race. The division is bunched up at the moment, with the Chiefs and Chargers each losing two straight games. The Broncos have won two in a row. The Raiders are in a position to make some noise in the division, especially if they can get at least one win out of the next two games.

The schedule gets a bit easier after these two, with golden opportunities down the stretch. There are weak sisters on the schedule that a quality team should handle and a flood of division games. The Raiders can remain highly competitive if they maintain a strong ground game offensively while shutting down the opponent’s rushing attack.

Early leads allow the Raiders to play their way, with a steady diet of Josh Jacobs working behind an imposing offensive line. The Raiders seem committed to playing solid run defense, but the back end must hold its own against excellent quarterbacks. Doing so puts most every game in play, even those where the Raiders look inferior on paper. 

[RELATED: Why Jackson sees so much potential in this Raiders O-line]

The Raiders have played quality competition tough, and found ways to win three important games through five attempts. They aren’t going to win every game, nor should that be expected from a team managing significant talent losses via injury, suspension or other.

Coming out of this two-game stretch with a win, or even two, would show the NFL these Raiders arrived before many expected, and that they’re a legitimate playoff threat heading into the season’s second half.

How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve


How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve

ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson lost valuable development time during his rookie season through no fault of his own. It was stolen from an inadvertent knee to the head by teammate Marquel Lee in the first preseason game, where Johnson suffered a concussion and a facial fracture that put his professional career on hold.

He didn’t play or practice again during the preseason and was placed on injured reserve right after the 53-man roster was set. That final act gave Johnson belief that the entire season was not lost.

The Raiders planned to designate him for return near midseason, when he was healthy and able to contribute on defense and special teams. Defensive contributions will be harder without nine weeks of practice and playing time, especially for a former receiver with just two seasons experience at cornerback, but Johnson isn’t bitter about that.

He applied proper perspective to his downtime and set to handle this setback as best he could.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Johnson said Monday. “I believe in marathons, not sprints. Everybody has a time and place for something to happen. My time just wasn’t then. When I got hurt, it didn’t really destroy me mentally. I knew there were steps to take to get where I want to go. I used it as a learning experience.”

That wasn’t always easy. Johnson was merely watching others practice and play, trying to learn conceptually without an ability to apply it on a practice field.

“I’m going to be honest: It’s really hard sitting in meetings, watching tape that you’re not on,” Johnson said. “After a while you mature and learn how to be a pro. Once you do that, you watch all that film and start applying it to yourself, so when you come back [to practice], you can use that knowledge.

"I kind of felt that today. I found myself applying some of the tools I learned during the six weeks I wasn’t playing.”

Johnson started practicing on Monday, opening a 21-day window for the Raiders to activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Johnson expects activation when he’s eligible to play after eight weeks on IR.

He’ll have nine regular-season games left if all goes to plan, offering plenty of time to accomplish this year’s primary objective.

“My only goal is to help the team win games,” Johnson said. “That has always been the case, so I can do everything I set out to do. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to come in and do it.”

Johnson is a top-tier athlete perfectly built for press-man coverage, though some development was required and understandable for someone who took up the cornerback position as a junior at the University of Houston. The Raiders need cornerback depth with Daryl Worley moving into more of a hybrid role, with Nevin Lawson and Trayvon Mullen as options to pick up Worley’s outside cornerback snaps when he roves across the defensive backfield.

Johnson will be involved in that but should be an immediate contributor on special teams.

[RELATED: Jackson, Johnson practice as Raiders prepare for Packers]

He was known as an excellent gunner in punt coverage and should give special teams a lift the moment he’s eligible to play. That’s a role he’s ready for right away.

“I have always enjoyed playing special teams,” Johnson said. “I feel like [special teams coordinator Rich] Bisaccia has a great system, and I feel like I can contribute the moment he puts me back on the field. I’m trying to show the coaches that I’m ready to go.

"I know I’ve been out, but I’m working to come back.”