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 former Alabama defensive lineman doesn’t post much on social media but scans 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-5 pick, but Williams detractors exist in dark corners of social media.
Alabama head 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 get 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 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 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.”