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 second in a series of stories about Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams leading up to the draft.
Quinnen Williams will be busy this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. He'll participate in individual drills, except the bench press, which you’ll be able to watch on television as he goes through this portion of the pre-draft process.
A vital portion of the combine experience started Thursday night and carries through Saturday behind closed doors, when the Alabama defensive tackle will meet with teams individually. That’s an area where Williams believes he'll shine.
Williams is an engaging personality who can turn a phrase, but he won’t win teams over with a charm offensive. He plans to do that with Xs and Os, and help secure his spot as a top-five pick in this year’s NFL draft. That could help him land in the Bay Area, possibly to the 49ers at No. 2 overall or the Raiders at No. 4.
“The focus is to be yourself, tell the truth in everything you do and know football,” Williams said last week in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area while training for the combine in the Los Angeles area. “That’s the main thing. My football IQ is very high, so that will be a positive thing for me going into the meetings.”
Williams' intimate knowledge of the game didn’t come naturally. He worked at it because he had to do so.
As a defensive end switching to nose guard at Alabama, Williams had to find new ways to compete while gaining the 40 extra pounds required playing inside.
“People ask how I got so smart playing football. It’s from getting knocked around,” Williams said. “It wasn’t easy being 275 playing nose guard in spring football against the Alabama offensive line, so I had to find something to beat those guys. I started looking more at film, watching tendencies. I would watch our offense’s practice every day, every single day. I just started finding clues I could use against them.”
Williams had a staff of nutritionists helping him bulk up the right way, but he wasn’t willing to wait for the extra size to help him compete. He wanted to start winning battles inside with technique and guile.
Another stat, ANOTHER appearance by Quinnen Williams. pic.twitter.com/unUYmWQjWI— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 24, 2019
Williams started spending extra time in the film room with Alabama offensive assistant Joe Pannunzio understanding the other side of the football.
“We started talking offense, about the different things running backs and tight ends do in general, and I learned about formations and how to break an offense down to perfection,” Williams said. “When I got good at that, I started to see the way I play change. That gave me confidence that I could play well despite being smaller than usual at my position.”
Practice success provided positive reinforcement that kept Williams doing his homework. He has an affinity for tape study now, and it’s just part of his football routine. Understanding offense was a benefit when he was smaller, and is a huge leg up now that he’s 302 pounds. He was able to use football smarts, newfound size, and strength and techniques learned as a defensive end to dominate inside.
He had 71 tackles, including 19.5 for a loss and eight sacks as a redshirt sophomore now playing inside. Williams’ game tape speaks for itself.
Quinnen Williams is elite. pic.twitter.com/Op8wSp1fv9— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) February 21, 2019
Now he’ll try to support it with solid individual work at the combine -- him skipping the bench press due to a bum finger isn’t a big deal -- and in meetings with teams this week in Indianapolis.
Williams learned a ton in combine training at Kobe Bryant’s sports academy, but he also has help from Alabama defensive linemen now in the pros who remain in constant contact helping him through the pre-draft process.
"That has been amazing. Those guys call me every day and touch base with them,” Williams said. “A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand worked out (at Bryant’s facility), and they teach me little things about how to get my vertical better or get my 40-yard dash better, and what they did going into the combine.
“From a confidence standpoint, I played with those guys and I trust them. I know I can do this, especially because I received a lot of help from those who came before me.”