Why the criticism of New York Jets' Quinnen Williams rookie year was and is unfair

Kristian Dyer

It was always a bit unfair to criticize Quinnen Williams last year, the New York Jets first round pick bearing a substantial amount of blame as a rookie for what was considered a lackluster year. But the nose tackle has by all accounts had a good offseason and is poised, according to one national media outlet, to have a better 2020.

And his numbers, in many ways, compare favorably to Damon Harrison, the former Jets player who has been one of the best nose tackles in the NFL over the past seven seasons.

In 13 games last year (nine starts), Williams finished with 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks. That he also had four tackles for a loss and six quarterback hits help explain a rookie year where Williams was solid but the numbers didn’t jump out in terms of the production expected of the third overall pick.

Part of the issue comes from the learning curve of being a rookie but also, nose tackle is an unforgiving and grueling role. Williams can’t be measured just by numbers as he does the dirty work of the defense, taking on multiple blockers to free up other defenders to make plays.

It is a role that is far from glamorous and one that does not lend itself to being high-profile or having gaudy statistics. Pro Football Focus asked ESPN’s Rich Cimini who on the Jets should be poised for a bigger year in 2020.

Cimini said Williams.

“Despite impressive physical traits, his lack of college experience showed up in 2019,” Cimini told PFF.

“Now he has 556 NFL snaps under his belt and should be more adept in reading blocking schemes.”

To read Cimini's full comments and analysis, click here.

Pro Football Focus noted that in 2018 while at Alabama, Williams was the highest graded interior defensive lineman since they started analyzing college games in 2014.

The issue with Williams was always one of reasonable expectations as a rookie but also understanding his role. The fact that his responsibility with the team was always going to be one that didn’t lend itself to splashy plays perhaps was misunderstood by Jets fans who were expecting a dominant performance from the rookie last year.

The aforementioned Harrison, arguably the best interior defensive lineman the Jets have had over the past decade and one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the league, had just 1.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Jets. While Harrison was dominant in other areas, it certainly gives pause to Williams and his production.

Considering that Williams had 2.5 sacks as a rookie is certainly a good sign of where he can and should develop.

Harrison had seven quarterback hits and 12 tackles for a loss during those four seasons with the Jets where he blossomed into one of the best interior defensive lineman in the game. Williams production as a rookie (28 tackles, four tackles for a loss, six quarterback hits) compare quite favorably to what Harrison did during his dominating four seasons in the green and white.

In 2016, Harrison signed a five-year, $46.25 million contract with the Giants including $24 million in guaranteed money. That contract made him one of the highest paid interior defensive linemen in the NFL, underscoring his value and production.

Signed by the Jets as an undrafted rookie free agent out of William Penn, an NAIA program, Harrison played sparingly as a rookie in 2013 and then quickly assumed a prominent role in the Jets defense the next season, making 16 starts.

Perhaps the learning curve for Williams, despite being a first round pick, should also consider that in several key areas including tackles for a loss and quarterback hits as well as sacks, he has put up numbers that eclipse the solid production of Harrison.

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Comments (2)
No. 1-1

Expectations were really high for Williams and maybe a little too high. When he is at his best I think that he can be one of the best interior linemen. As you said he just needed experience. I think that if this season happens we will see a much improved performance out of him.