Gregg Williams was the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams when they drafted a defensive tackle out of Pittsburgh with the 13th-overall pick of the 2014 draft.
That prospect was Aaron Donald, who turned out to be a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year — quite possibly headed for his third this season in Los Angeles.
Williams made clear Friday that second-year Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is not Donald — who is? — but the Jets’ defensive coordinator brought up his former pupil unsolicited to describe the improvement and the defensive impact his current one is making in 2020 despite the team’s 0-11 record entering Sunday’s game against Las Vegas.
“Remember back in the days when you guys were asking me about [Quinnen Williams] and I said you just have to wait?” Gregg Williams said after practice Friday in Florham Park. “He does some things, it’s not like Aaron Donald when I had him, but there’s some things that you just shake your head and say, ‘Wow.’ ”
Quinnen Williams, the No. 3 overall pick in 2019 out of Alabama, missed three games as a rookie with ankle and leg injuries, finishing with just 2.5 sacks and 28 tackles in 13 appearances.
Still, he reported in better shape and declared in August plans to be “unstoppable” this season. In the past four games, Williams has totaled 17 tackles (four for a loss), eight quarterback hits, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and three of his five sacks on the season.
“He had to fight through those injuries last year. He got so much respect from me last year on playing on one leg, basically,” Gregg Williams said. “And then when we started this season, we had very little training camp, hardly any padded practices. He’s an extremely explosive football player. He’s a smart young man, too.
“But then once you add that together, with experience of time on task, more experience, more reps, he also now is coming up with some unique feel for the game.”
The longtime defensive coordinator added that Quinnen Williams’ defensive “rankings are off the charts” in various categories. According to Pro Football Focus, he is second in the league with 20 “stops,” any play that goes for no gain or loses yards. Williams also ranks 10th in the NFL among all interior defenders against the run, and 16th out of 127 overall.
Donald, who made the Pro Bowl in each of his first six NFL seasons and will again this year, ranks first at that position. His NFC-best 10 sacks leave him one behind league leader T.J. Watt of Pittsburgh.
“You’ll love this. Quinnen is way ahead of Aaron in a lot of different categories,” Gregg Williams said. “He’s ahead of him, and I love teasing Aaron about that every once in a while when we have our chats. They’re different players, they play the same position, but they’re different athletes on how they go about doing their responsibility.”
During training camp, the 22-year-old Quinnen Williams said he spent the offseason devouring film of three of the league’s top interior lineman: Donald, Indianapolis’ DeForest Buckner and Kansas City’s Chris Jones.
“Quinnen I know watches some of that film … to see some of the counter moves you see him using right now,” Gregg Williams said. “But make no bones about now, he’s a powerful young man in the run game. And I always smile with Aaron on that, because people don’t realize that Aaron isn’t as big as Quinnen.”
Indeed, Donald is listed as 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds, while Williams stands 6-3 and weighs 303.
“Quinnen is a big man. But Aaron can still get after it with making you believe you’re going to be blocking air, because he’s gonna jump you, he’s gonna spin you, he’s gonna do a lot of different things that way,” Gregg Williams said. “The other thing, too, I laugh, I smile, and I haven’t forgotten … there was a lot of criticism that came my way when we drafted this short guy, Aaron Donald, as high as we did. But he’s turned out to be a pretty good player.”