Quinnen Williams' NFL draft stock soars after one excellent season for Alabama

Quinnen Williams' NFL draft stock soars after one excellent season for Alabama

SAN JOSE -- Quinnen Williams entered the 2018 season stressed. The nose guard wanted to crack Alabama's starting lineup, a modest goal that wasn't guaranteed.

Spots are never secure with the Crimson Tide, where internal competition is as fierce as anything the program faces from the outside.

The converted edge rusher believed he would make a profound impact if given an opportunity to work inside. He got one, and made the most of it.

The 21-year-old whom teammates call a “300-pound bar of soap” has risen to national prominence in one amazing season, and he's now considered a consensus top-five NFL draft pick. If, of course, he formally turns pro after Monday night's College Football Playoff national championship game versus Clemson at Levi’s Stadium.

Here’s why: Williams is doing things that 6-foot-4, 295-pound players shouldn’t, with a combination of athleticism, quickness and power rare for a man his size. He has 67 tackles, eight sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, creating havoc with interior pressure. He is a modern, hybrid interior lineman who could be coveted by NFL teams trying to combat pass-happy, quick-release quarterbacks.

“He's got a lot of versatility to his game, his initial quickness, his body and balance control,” Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said Saturday during the CFP national championship media day at SAP Center. “He can hurt you. He plays with power. He utilizes his hands well, and above all that stuff, it's who he is inside. He's an animal.”

A pretty nice one -- in front of the cameras, anyway. Williams seems to be a happy-go-lucky guy, enjoying this crazy ride and the accolades that come with it.

“This year has been a blessing,” Williams said. “It has been an amazing process this year. I’m enjoys the fruits of a lot of hard work.”

Pretty soon, those fruits could turn into cold, hard cash. Some draft analysts believe Williams might be picked in the top two or be the first name called in the April draft.

“I haven’t allowed myself to think about that,” Williams said. “I really haven’t thought much about the draft or the NFL. I see it on Twitter and all that, but I don’t dig much into it or spend much time on it. I’m focused on winning a national championship.”

Williams was focused on rising up Alabama’s depth chart this summer, nothing more.

“I didn’t even think I was going to start at the beginning of this year,” Williams said. “I was working on the transition from defensive end to nose guard. We have a lot of guys who could’ve had that position. There were a lot of guys I had to outwork on my own team just to start and play.”

[RELATED: Mock drafts' guess on how the Raiders will use the No. 4 pick]

Williams could parlay one excellent season into a top draft selection. It could come from the Raiders at No. 4 overall, despite them selecting defensive tackles P.J. Hall (second round) and Maurice Hurst (fifth round) last season.

Williams is a special talent -- some might say "flash in the pan" at this stage -- without much experience. He believes a long line of Alabama defensive linemen currently thriving in the NFL can show him the way, and he stays in contact with several, including Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen.

“I already have like the blueprints on how the NFL goes and stuff like that,” Williams said. “They just give me advice along the way and just teach me what do.”

NFL rumors: Antonio Brown's quest to wear preferred helmet hits a snag

NFL rumors: Antonio Brown's quest to wear preferred helmet hits a snag

Antonio Brown’s camp thought the superstar receiver’s quest to wear his preferred helmet was nearing its end.

Not so fast, apparently.

Brown wants to wear a Schutt Air Advantage helmet, a version of headgear he has worn, in one model or another, since high school. It has been discontinued and is more than 10 years old, making it ineligible for certification.

Brown was told he could use the Schutt Air Advantage if he could find one made less than 10 years ago. He would then have to get it re-conditioned and re-certified.

The star Raiders receiver crowd sourced his helmet search, and found some that were made more recently.

The NFL tested a helmet made in 2010 that Brown’s camp submitted and, according to Pro Football Talk, the helmet failed the test. Brown was reportedly told of the failure on Saturday. Brown also has one from 2014 that was certified by an independent body, but it has not yet been recently tested by the NFL.

PFT also reports that Brown will continue his quest to wear the helmet he prefers.

The receiver, who squashed all talk of retirement over this helmet issue, said Thursday night that he would work within the system to get a helmet that works for him.

[RELATED: Brown shows great retention during practice]

“I’m still trying helmets right now,” Brown said after the Raiders beat Arizona in their preseason game. “As long as the league certifies them, those are the ones I’m trying out. I’m trying out every one I have. There have been a lot of great fans sending helmets. I’m just following protocol, man. I’m just excited to be back. You’ll be seeing a lot of me here shortly. I’m just excited to be around my teammates in the building and reached the shared goals we’re here to achieve.”

Derek Carr, Raiders' frontline starters might be done playing in preseason

Derek Carr, Raiders' frontline starters might be done playing in preseason

NAPA – Derek Carr has said he doesn’t need much preseason work to prepare for games that actually count.

That’s a plus for the Raiders quarterback. One drive might be all he gets.

Head coach Jon Gruden said his surefire starters might be done playing in the preseason, even with two exhibitions left.

The preseason finale’s never played by major contributors. The third preseason game often represents the most extensive action starters see, but that might not be the case Thursday against the Green Bay Packers in Winnipeg at IF Field. The venue has artificial turf, and houses a CFL team and a professional soccer club, with both franchises currently in season.

“We’re looking into the surface that we’re playing on, and we’re not sure how much we’re going to play our starters,” Gruden said on Saturday. “We don’t have 22 starters in ink yet, either. There are going to be guys vying to become starters, but some of the frontline guys will be very limited in the next two weeks.”

That includes Carr, running back Josh Jacobs and receiver Antonio Brown, just returning after suffering frostbite on his feet. The starting Raiders offense was efficient in Thursday’s win over Arizona, quickly scoring a touchdown on its only drive. The top defense played four series and shut the Cardinals down, getting in quality work as a unit.

If the playing surface in Winnipeg is a cause for concern, expect Gruden to play it safe with his roster’s best.

Preserving health in the preseason was underscored by Friday news that the Chargers lost Derwin James for at least three months. The Raiders already are without right guard Gabe Jackson for the season’s first quarter at least. They don’t want to put any other big names at unnecessary risk.

There’s logic behind shutting Richie Incognito down in games, and backing him off some in first-team work. He has to serve a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and the Raiders will start preparing his replacements for early-season action.

“We’ve seen him enough,” Gruden said. “He’s played enough football. I don’t think we need to see him pull on power anymore. I think he’s good.”

[RELATED: What has impressed Carr most about Raiders rookie Jaocbs]

Jonathan Cooper’s the front runner to play left guard at this stage, though Denzelle Good (back) came off the physically unable to perform list Saturday and will challenge Cooper if he can get ramped up over the preseason’s final few weeks.

“We’re going to ease him back in,” Gruden said. “That’s huge for us. With Gabe injury and Richie’s situation, it’s good to have Denzelle close to returning.”