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NFL Draft News: Quinnen Williams’ Surprise Rise, More from Alabama and Penn State Pro Days

Last year at this time, Quinnen Williams was an untested Crimson Tide backup, hardly on the NFL’s radar. Since then he’s climbed so high he didn’t even need to work out for pro scouts in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday. What’s behind his ascension to potential top-five pick? Plus, notes on Josh Jacobs’ 40, Trace McSorley at Penn State, and more.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Quinnen Williams wasn’t even supposed to be here.

Sure, if you watched the 2018 football season, you know why so many NFL coaches, executives and scouts wanted a few minutes with the former Alabama defensive tackle on Tuesday. But at the Crimson Tide’s pro day last year, Williams watched teammate Da’Ron Payne go through this process and never imagined he’d be doing the same thing 12 months later.

“I reflect on it every time I work out, every time I wake up,” the 6'3", 303-pound Williams said on Tuesday. “Seven months ago I wouldn’t have even thought about going to the NFL. The scouts didn’t know me.”

Last year, when Alabama coaches selected a group of rising juniors to be measured by and introduced to NFL personnel people—as current Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and others were earlier this month—Williams wasn’t on the list. Tide coaches weren’t trying to hide Williams from the NFL; they just didn’t realize he’d develop as quickly as he did. At the time, Williams had just moved from end to tackle in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme. He was in the process of packing on about 20 pounds to handle the pounding he’d take inside. As some poor SEC centers and guards learned last season, that extra weight didn’t hurt Williams’ quickness one bit.

Williams didn’t work out on Tuesday, choosing to stand on his combine numbers. This is perfectly understandable since he ran a 4.83-second 40-yard dash. Williams said he had surgery on his right pinky finger shortly after the combine, and the finger is still healing. He said he broke it in November against Auburn when it got caught in an opposing lineman’s face mask.

The lack of new data from Tuesday won’t cool the enthusiasm of NFL teams. Williams remains one of the most coveted prospects in the draft, and it’s not difficult to understand why. He was the best defensive player in college football last season. He broke down opposing offenses from the inside out, piling up 19.5 tackles for loss while playing nose.

The video of Alabama’s games should be enough to get Williams chosen near the top of the first round, but he is getting one question consistently when he meets with teams: How did it all happen so fast? This question doesn’t bother Williams, and he has plenty of practice answering. He’s been getting it from high school friends and from random people around Tuscaloosa since he first became a force early last season.

There is a logical explanation for Williams’ rapid ascent. Alabama’s starting nosetackle in his first two seasons was Payne, a fellow Birmingham native. “It’s just opportunity,” Williams said. “I feel like I’ve been this player. We just had better players in front of me. Great guys. Great leaders. I just had to play my role.”

Payne went No. 13 overall to Washington last year and started all 16 games in his first NFL season, with 56 tackles and five sacks. Another reason for the delay was that Williams needed to grow into his body. Even now he has a baby face that suggests he could still get bigger and stronger as he ages. But when he arrived at Alabama, he weighed about 260 pounds. That was too small even to play defensive end in the Tide’s scheme, so Williams had to bulk up. The idea to move Williams inside didn’t come until this past offseason, and that required more weight. Nick Saban’s nosetackles have shrunk considerably since 368-pound Terrence Cody manned the position, but the Tide coach still prefers a sturdy player who can control two gaps if necessary. It took time for Williams to develop the bulk and the strength to play there, but once he did, his preternatural strength made him tougher to block than anyone who has played that spot for one of Saban’s Alabama teams. 

“Quinnen was always very athletic and had really good quickness,” Saban said. “I think he was sometimes a little undersized, and maybe that limited his role. But as he got bigger and stronger with that quickness, he became a very good player. He always played with a great attitude and lots of tenacity. He was a really hard worker who tried to do everything right, and he’s a smart player. That combination of things helped him rise very quickly.”

On Monday, Williams spent a few minutes with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who appeared Tuesday in an Alabama pullover that had the Internet buzzing with hundreds of variations of the same “Man, Nick Saban keeps hiring even more accomplished analysts” joke. “I’m a fan,” Williams said. “I’m a groupie almost.”

Unfortunately, the chance of Williams and Belichick working together seems slim. By the time the Super Bowl champs are scheduled to pick at No. 32, Williams likely will be long gone.

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Some other notes from Alabama’s Pro Day…

• Given Alabama’s recent staff turnover, pro days tend to feel like reunions. Former Tide offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who has held the same job with the Eagles since 2013, put offensive linemen Jonah Williams, Ross Pierschbacher and Lester Cotton through drills. Brian Daboll, who ran Alabama’s offense for a national title season in 2017 before leaving to become the offensive coordinator for the Bills, checked in on players he coached. Meanwhile, Williams yukked it up with Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, who was Williams’s first position coach at Alabama.

• Alabama tailback Josh Jacobs ran a 40-yard dash in the mid 4.6-second range. That might turn off the dumb teams, but the smart ones will remember that Jacobs is the most versatile back in this draft. He can run, catch and steal defenders’ souls.

Christian Miller, who played strongside linebacker at Alabama, did linebacker and defensive line drills Tuesday. The 6'3", 247-pound Miller did not run the 40-yard dash. He is recovering from a hamstring injury suffered during the season and plans to run it at Alabama’s second pro day on April 2.

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McSorley Works Out—as a QB—at Penn State

Trace McSorley, Penn State’s winningest quarterback, is an intriguing prospect because of his athleticism and versatility. He ran the fastest 40 time of any quarterback at the combine and has drawn comparisons to New England receiver Julian Edelman, who played QB at Kent State before switching to receiver after he was drafted by the Patriots in the seventh round. McSorley was asked to work out with the defensive backs at the combine but declined, saying he is concentrating on being a quarterback.

He stuck to his QB dreams on Tuesday at Penn State’s pro pay. McSorley threw for around 30 minutes, and according to NJ.Com’s  Mike Kaye, completed 49 of 53 passes. Kaye noted that two of the incompletions were high balls, one was a bad drop by East Stroudsburg receiver Jylil Reeder and one was a red zone throw that was caught with one foot out of bounds.

Notable members of the audience included Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh, who was likely there to get a good look at Penn State running back Miles Sanders, who was working out as one of McSorley’s receivers. Giants running back and Penn State alum Saquon Barkley was also on hand to support his old quarterback and teammates.

After he was finished, McSorley spoke to reporters and said he didn’t take teams requesting him to work out at DB as a sign of disrespect, but that it definitely motivated him to prove he can make it as a quarterback in the league. “For me, I feel like I am a quarterback, and it does put a chip on my shoulder that teams don’t want to see me do that,” he said. “In my heart and in my mind I am a quarterback and that is where I laid my groundwork.” —Kalyn Kahler

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Next up

Wednesday’s pro days include Ohio State, with QB Dwayne Haskins and consensus top-five pick Nick Bosa; and Notre Dame, with projected first-round defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. Where might these guys land? Check out The MMQB’s latest mock draft, by Conor Orr. And keep up with all of our draft coverage here.

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