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.”

Raiders, Jon Gruden coaching staff: Senior Bowl 'great tool' for team


Raiders, Jon Gruden coaching staff: Senior Bowl 'great tool' for team

MOBILE, Ala. – The Senior Bowl has NFL coaching staffs run the annual college All-Star Game and NFL draft showcase. They’re typically offered to the worst team from each conference with a returning coach, and the Raiders fit that bill.

The invite wasn’t accepting begrudgingly, out of obligation. Head coach Jon Gruden jumped at the opportunity. The Raiders wanted to do it.

The Silver and Black coaching staff will lead the North squad during the practice week and in Saturday’s game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

“We are really excited,” Gruden said. “It will be the fourth time that I have done it. We have to do a good job in this draft and the best way to do it is to be as close as possible to the players."

The experience allows Raiders coaches to get their hands on invited prospects and see how they meet, absorb information and perform in practice against top competition looking to boost draft stock.

It will be a valuable evaluation tool heading into a pivotal NFL draft, one that could energize Gruden’s return to the Raiders.

While there isn’t a player here expected to be a Raiders target at No. 4 overall – Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen would’ve been the only one and he backed out of a commitment to play – there’s quality at several positions of need that could be options when the Raiders select early at Nos. 24, 27 and 35 overall and further down the NFL draft.

The Raiders will get to know these Senior Bowl players as well or better than any prospects in the NFL draft. Most teams get to meet with these guys and watch them practice. The Raiders will get to work with the North squad, with the 49ers running the South.

“When you get to the Senior Bowl and you get the access to these kids and the opportunity to see both teams practice, how they practice, how they retain information, how they process information, both on an install basis and mechanics on the field,” general manager Mike Mayock said. “I think it’s just a huge advantage.”

A unique week’s interaction will draw the Raiders to certain players. It will also push them away from others.

“If we can eliminate two or three players by coaching the Senior Bowl,” Gruden said, “sometimes that is just as important as finding two or three guys that you really want.”

The importance of the Raiders’ three 2019 first-round picks can’t be oversold. They will be vital in this roster rebuild, and nailing two or all three could expedite an often painful reconstruction process.

Gruden hopes it helps find prospects and sell the coaching staff to college free agents and anyone watching this week’s work.

“We have three picks in the first round,” We also pick in every other round and we also have the potential to add players after the draft. It will give our coaches, I think, a chance to go to Mobile in front of the entire NFL and show what kind of coaching staff we have - show the energy and enthusiasm that we have as a staff. We are going to sell ourselves to the players.”

[RELATED: Raiders should be watching safeties at Senior Bowl]

The Raiders are happy to interrupt the offseason for this experience, which Gruden has done three times before. He led a Senior Bowl squad twice while with Tampa Bay and once in his previous stint in Oakland, back in 1999.

“The last time I coached the Senior Bowl as the head coach of the Raiders, we drafted Eric Barton and Rod Coleman,” Gruden said. “It was a great tool for us, in Tampa and in Oakland.”

Raiders playing Bears in London means no return of the (Khalil) Mack


Raiders playing Bears in London means no return of the (Khalil) Mack

MOBILE, Ala. – The Raiders have been shipping home games abroad for years now.

The football people don’t love it. Jon Gruden’s a homebody, and prefers to stay put whenever possible. Jack Del Rio didn’t like it, either. Adding another travel date to the schedule makes a season harder. There’s no arguing that.

It is unofficially part of the team’s relocation efforts, conceding to play an extra game away from the East Bay and wherever the Raiders eventually call home in 2019.

This will mark the fourth straight season the Raiders have hosted an international game, and the fifth time in the last six years.

They’ll be going to London this time. The opponent was no surprise.

The Raiders will play the Chicago Bears in London, the NFL announced Monday morning. The exact date and venue will be announced when the schedule’s released this spring.

Playing the Bears far away from home prevents the return of Khalil Mack. Gruden traded the All-Pro edge rusher to Chicago on Sept. 1 for a compensation package that included two first round picks, an unpopular move that signaled the start of a complete roster rebuild.

Moving this game to London avoids the possibility of him wreaking havoc against his old team, pressuring good friend and former teammate Derek Carr in front of a home crowd that loved him so much.

Mack was immensely popular in Oakland and across the Bay Area, a market the Raiders could well play in despite not having a lease to play anywhere in 2019.

Mack’s return would’ve been a huge storyline, and may well have been a primetime offering. Moving the game to London eliminates that prospect as well, given the time difference between England and the United States.

Even still the focus will be on Mack playing the Raiders and a way-to-early progress report on the No. 24 overall NFL draft pick, who will be the first tangible part of the Raiders return in the Khalil Mack trade.

Changing the venue and keeping this an early game should dampen national focus and local passion for this one.

The Raiders and Bears matchup is part of a four-game series in London that also features Tampa Bay-Carolina, Houston-Jacksonville and L.A. Rams-Cincinnati. The L.A. Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs will play in Mexico City next season.

As it was in 2018, the Raiders, Rams and Chargers, teams playing in temporary venues while their stadia are being built, will all host games abroad.