New York Jets: History proves that Quinnen Williams’ criticisms are premature
By Justin Fried
New York Jets rookie Quinnen Williams has drawn his fair share of criticism this season. But history proves that much of that criticism is undeserved.
New York Jets fans have plenty to be disappointed with this season. From injuries to an abysmal offensive line to questionable coaching, 2019 hasn’t given Jets fans much to smile about. But one player who has felt the brunt of unnecessary criticism has been rookie Quinnen Williams.
With the Jets continuing to struggle, the rookie third overall pick has once again been thrust into the spotlight of disapproval. With Jets fans looking for anything or anyone to blame, it’s been Williams who has paid the price.
But is the criticism fair? Is it officially time to worry about Williams’ lack of stat-sheet production?
Jets fans have been here before. After a breakout sophomore NFL season, former top-six draft pick Leonard Williams slowly faded into the background putting together numerous unspectacular seasons.
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We’ve all heard the phrase “hidden production” thrown around. And for many Jets fans, that phrase likely evokes negative emotions. But it’s important to put aside previous situations when discussing current ones.
After all, the only thing that Quinnen Williams and Leonard Williams share in common is their last name.
Quinnen Williams may not be showing up on the stat sheet right now, but he is making an impact. The rookie has earned a respectable 69.5 grade from Pro Football Focus this season — higher than Leonard Williams, mind you — with his best performance coming this past week.
The Alabama product finished with a 75.7 grade from PFF with two QB hurries and impressive run defense metrics. It wasn’t a dominant performance, but it’s a start.
Admittedly, Williams hasn’t made quite the impact that many were expecting from him this season. The Jets selected him with the third overall pick to be a dominant interior presence on the defensive line, both against the run and rushing the passer.
But perhaps expectations were a bit too high. History indicates that many young interior defensive linemen take a few years to truly reach their peak form and develop into the dominant players that they are.
Just a quick look at some of the NFL’s best interior defensive linemen paints a picture not too dissimilar to Williams.
Take for example Green Bay Packers linemen Kenny Clark. Clark is widely regarded as one of the very best at his position in the NFL but his first professional season went a lot like Williams’ has.
Clark was selected by the Packers in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and he made his NFL debut at just 20-years-old before turning 21 in October of that year — the same age as Williams. Despite playing in all 16 games, Clark failed to tally a single sack on the year.
That’s mostly because the Packers weren’t using him as a pass rusher. They instead relied on him to eat up blocks, freeing up other rushers. Nick Perry finished with a career-high 11 sacks that year and Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews combined for 12.5 more.
Clark was still growing into his frame and wasn’t being used in an ideal situation. But it wouldn’t take long before the former UCLA standout would become the star that he is today once he was given a full-time starting role and made a focal point of the defense.
He developed and his team schemed more to his strengths. Williams’ first year is nearly a carbon copy of Clark’s.
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But this is just one example. The NFL is full of dominant interior rushers who failed to fill up the stat sheet early on in their careers.
It took Akiem Hicks five years to finish with more than 4.5 sacks in a season. Chris Jones had just two sacks in his first season but two years later he was leading the Kansas City Chiefs defense with 16.5.
Meanwhile, Cameron Heyward has 2.5 total sacks through his first two seasons serving as a role player before breaking out when given a full-time starting role. And in Tennessee, Jurrell Casey has just 5.5 sacks through his first two years before a 10.5-sack performance in year three.
These are some of the very best interior defensive linemen in the NFL today and many of them had careers that mirrored the path Williams has taken so far.
Is this to say that Williams is a sure thing and will one day be at the level of these players? Absolutely not, the jury is 100 percent still out.
But this does show that the criticism being thrown his way is a bit premature. If Williams is in his third or fourth NFL season and still making a minimal impact, then perhaps the slander will be justified.
But Quinnen Williams is just 10 games into his NFL career and he’s still only 21-years-old. It may be hard for some fans, but patience is necessary for this situation. Williams may one day be an elite player or he may fade away as his elder Williams did.
There’s no way of knowing at the moment.
There are plenty of things to complain about this season and plenty of people to blame, but Quinnen Williams should not be one of them.