Quinnen Williams showed up to Alabama Pro Day sporting black sweatpants and a smile Tuesday.
He may have only one full season of video for NFL teams to see, but when you put up the type of game performances and combine results that Williams has, you get the amount of leeway to turn Pro Day into a glorified meet and greet.
Last season, Williams recorded 71 total tackles, including 19.5 for loss, and eight sacks for the Crimson Tide. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman, and then followed that by becoming the fourth-fastest 300-pounder in NFL combine history with his blazing 4.83 40-yard dash time.
“I feel good about what I did at the combine,” Williams said. “I feel like it translated from what I did on the field this year.”
Williams said he “wasn’t satisfied” with his 4.83 because he had clocked himself as low as 4.78 while training, but it wasn’t enough to get him to run again at Pro Day. He opted not to participate in any drills Tuesday in front of a packed house that included representatives from over 20 NFL teams, eight general managers and most notably Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Part of his decision also was tied to a right pinkie injury he suffered against Auburn in November. He played the rest of the season and participated in the combine with the hurt finger, but underwent a procedure on it after participating at the combine.
For Williams, the rapid rise from backup defensive end to starting nose guard and now consensus top-five NFL Draft pick in limited time at Alabama has been surreal.
“I reflect on it every time I get ready to work out, every time I wake up,” Williams said. “Seven months ago, I wasn’t even talking about going to the NFL. The pre-Pro Day thing with all the juniors, I wasn’t even on the list for that. I wasn’t even starting. None of that.”
“From where I was seven months ago, the fact that I don’t even really have to go out and perform (at Pro Day), it’s crazy,” he added.
At the combine, Williams said that he wasn’t aware that he was a top draft prospect until Bama coach Nick Saban informed him of his draft stock a week after the College Football Playoff Championship game.
Williams does not confuse his surprise with how deserving he is, though. He has said repeatedly through the pre-draft process that he has always been the type of player he was last season.
“I wanted to show that last year wasn’t just a breakout year for me. It was just an opportunity to get out on the field and show my talents. … People think I’m a one-hit wonder. Nah. I’m really the person that’s on film,” Williams said.
The crucial piece to earning his starting spot in Saban’s program was Williams’ physical development. He arrived at Alabama as a 255-pound end. Now, he is a 300-pound tackle.
“Quinnen just had to get bigger and stronger because at times he was undersized,” Saban said. “He always played with a great attitude and lots of tenacity. He did everything right, and he’s a smart player, so a combination of all those things helped him rise so quickly.”
Some people aren’t satisfied with the idea that some time in the weight room and an open spot in the starting lineup is all it took to propel Williams from backup to a spot as a consensus All-American. He said that random people will stop him on the street and old friends from high school will text him, all asking to explain the key to his rise. His response is always the same.
“It’s just opportunity. I’ve always been this player, I just always had great players in front of me. I was blessed when coach Saban gave me the opportunity to move from defensive end to nose guard, and I just made the most of that opportunity.”
If opportunity is all it took, Williams might be on the brink of something special. Come April, NFL teams will be knocking down Williams’ door to give him his next great chance, and if history holds, he’ll be there to tackle it head on.
The NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. April 25 with the Arizona Cardinals on the clock at No. 1. The Falcons pick 14th overall.
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