What’s wrong with Jets’ Quinnen Williams? For starters, he’s been ‘handicapped’ by Gregg Williams’ defense
Today 6:15 AM
By Matt Stypulkoski | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Is Quinnen Williams just Leonard Williams 2.0?
That question, or some variation of it, has been haunting Jets fans for the past 11 weeks. For four-plus years, this franchise watched a top-end draft pick struggle to generate the pass rush pressure that was promised.
For Leonard Williams, those unmet expectations ended with a trade to the Giants last month.
Obviously, Quinnen Williams’ future is far less certain. But so far, the Jets have watched their new, highly-touted rookie defensive tackle limp to just 1.5 sacks through his first eight games.
So what’s wrong? Why aren’t the numbers coming? Is this already a sign that the rookie isn’t all he was billed to be?
“I really don’t look at that, man," Quinnen said. “I just make sure I do my job. If every day I come in knowing I did my job, knowing I did the everything to the best of my ability in the scheme and the execution of that scheme, I’m good with that.”
That’s all well and good; it’s probably for the best that Quinnen isn’t feeling the mounting pressure of his lagging statistics. Long term, that mentality can only benefit him, especially in the New York incubator.
But let’s be honest: Production matters. Sacks matter. Tackles for loss matter. And right now, Quinnen – who was touted as an interior wrecking ball during the pre-draft process – simply isn’t getting them.
“What’s he have, 1.5 sacks?" NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “Those aren’t good numbers. Nobody would think that’s what you draft a guy No. 3 for.”
So why, exactly, hasn’t Quinnen found statistical success yet?
For starters, it’s probably worth examining what the No. 3 overall pick is doing – and how that affects what he isn’t.
“They’re the No. 1 rushing defense in football and he’s the reason why," Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said.
That, first and foremost, is what the Jets are asking Quinnen to do inside defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ system.
“They play in the 3-4," said Chuck Smith, who tallied 58.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons and now teaches current players via Chuck Smith Training Systems. “So he’s holding up blocks and I’m sure they turn him loose sometimes, but look around the league. The teams that get a lot of sacks are running a four-man front.”
Smith and Baldinger both believe that Quinnen’s skillset would best shine through as part of a four-man front.
Instead, Smith effectively argues, Quinnen is being sacrificed for the greater good within the Jets’ current scheme. Quinnen’s been effective in his given role – eating up offensive linemen, often taking on two blockers to help free up teammates. Indeed, the Jets are holding opponents to less than 3 yards per carry this season, so Quinnen’s big body sure seems to be helping the cause.
But Smith also believes it’d be near impossible for Quinnen to achieve much more that he is under the Jets’ current setup.
“I know that Jets fans and maybe even the organization doesn’t want to hear it, but it’s a fact,” Smith said. “Quinnen is handicapped, in my opinion, by the defense. You put him in Philly, he’s Fletcher Cox."
It’s not just the basics of the scheme holding Quinnen back, either; how he’s being used within it is affecting him, too.
“He plays on the nose, he plays over the guard, he plays three-technique, he plays defensive end,” Baldinger said. "He’s playing in a variety of spots and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s really about the team defense versus individuals right now.”
In fact, while that positional flexibility can be a strength, it also “works against the development of Quinnen,” Baldinger said.
Why, then, is Gregg Williams moving Quinnen around the field if it isn’t helping his long-term growth?
Well, because the Jets don’t have the necessary talent to simply line up and rush the passer traditionally. Only two Jets have more than two sacks – outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (five) and safety Jamal Adams (six). As a result, they have to get creative in order to gin up some pressure.
“Let’s just say they had a Vonn Miller … or Whitney Mercilus or somebody (on the edge),” Baldinger said. "You could really count on him to push the pocket inside and get off like he did at Alabama. You could push it from the outside and you could push it from the inside and make life difficult for the quarterback. But they don’t have that.”
That said, Quinnen’s ails are not all about the scheme and defensive talent.
There’s another major difference between the Jets and the Crimson Tide: One of them is a dominant force that plays with the lead every single week. The other has three wins in 10 games.
At Alabama, where Quinnen was in the national-championship hunt, he recorded 19.5 sacks last season. This year, on a struggling team, he’s totaled just four quarterback hits this season – one each of the past four weeks – to go with those 1.5 sacks.
That’s probably not a coincidence.
“Opportunity sometimes is about winning on first down on defense and putting people in predictable situations and having the ability to tee off," FOX analyst Howie Long said. “The other factor in having more opportunities to rush the quarterback and tee off is having an offense that puts up big points. Obviously, (the Jets have) an offense that’s finding its way with a young quarterback."
The Jets spent zero time in the lead during two of Quinnen’s eight games this season. In two others – against the Jaguars and Dolphins – the Jets led for a grand total of 13:27.
There were, however, four games in which the Jets led quite a bit.
The held an edge for 52:35 against the Bills, but Quinnen played just 35 percent of the defensive snaps in that game, which was his NFL debut. They led the Cowboys for 56:30, which Quinnen turned into a career-high six tackles. They led for 31:59 against the Giants and 57:02 against the Redskins; Quinnen recorded just one total tackle, but did notch two quarterback hits.
That obviously pales in comparison to the Jets’ 12 combined sacks during those two recent victories, but it’s something.
“They’re not exactly up 40 where Quinnen gets to rush the passer,” Smith said. “If Jordan Jenkins was playing with the 49ers, he’d have 10 sacks by now. It’s not as much about Quinnen. To me, the defensive front on the Jets is completely affected by what’s happening in the games. So you can’t evaluate Quinnen Williams or anyone, truly, with the Jets because they’re not playing with the same deck as the other teams.”
So, yes, Quinnen has in large measure fallen victim to circumstance.
But that doesn’t mean his lagging production can be completely washed away. The 21-year-old still bears some responsibility for this underwhelming rookie campaign, too.
“He looks like a kid," Baldinger said. "So you go, ‘Alright, let’s see what he looks like two years from now, with a weight program and learning what nutrition is all about and let’s see this kid transform.’ I’ve seen that happen to other players. He’s far from being a finished product.”
Long compares an NFL player’s career to a pair of elevators. One represents the player’s mental game, the other his physical skills. As a rookie, the physical elevator near the top floor. Sure, as Baldinger points out, it may not be all the way at the penthouse. But youthful energy is a wonderful thing. The other elevator, though, starts in the basement – and can take a year or two to really start rising.
If you ask Smith, there have already been signs that Quinnen’s mental game is making the climbing.
“He’s recognizing blocks better than he did in the beginning, which is normal," Smith said. “He’s not as hesitant. He’s getting off the ball a lot quicker and he’s more effective.”
That’s a good start. But there’s still plenty left to master.
“I do think he needs an offseason to really work with (Jets defensive line coach) Andre Carter ... on learning how to rush the passer," Baldinger said. "I don’t think he knows how to do it. I think he’s just been so quick off the ball and powerful that he was just able to get to the quarterback like that. You see signs of it, but he’s not going to make a living doing that in this business.”
Easier said than done, obviously. But so long as Quinnen keeps working to speed up that mental elevator, Long still believes as strongly in his potential now as he did before the draft.
“You have to look at it and say, ‘It’s either real or it’s a mirage,'” Long said. "And there’s no question in my mind that he’s real.”
That was the consensus takeaway from all three analysts: Be patient and the numbers will come.
“Jets fans, cool out,” Smith said. "This cat is young, he’s showing flashes.”