Well, this is awkward.
It’s not that we didn’t expect other defensive linemen in this class to be good, of course we did. This has the potential to be one of the best and deepest defensive line classes in a long time, but another player on Ed Oliver’s level? Nah, that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Oliver is the chosen one, a five-star recruit who could have played anywhere in the country he wanted, but chose Houston to stay closer to home. He’s eaten AAC competition alive, posting insane production and further bolstering his already consensus top ten profile in preparation for the 2019 NFL Draft, which Oliver declared for back in March.
While anyone related to the NFL Draft has assumed that Oliver would be a top five pick for years now, very few people were aware of Alabama’s Quinnen Williams until the past few weeks. The redshirt sophomore from Birmingham was still a very good prospect out of high school, but ranked 155th nationally compared to Oliver’s sixth place finish in the recruiting rankings.
Nevertheless, no defensive tackle in the country has posted tape like Williams’ this season, as the 6-foot-2, 285-pound defender has ravaged every offensive line he’s faced while living in the opponent’s backfield. His performances have been a highlight reel of teaching tape on how to play interior defensive line at a high level.
Williams has been so overwhelmingly good against the toughest conference in the country that he’s thrown the Player 2 conversation into a tizzy. I try to go into every season with an open mind, but Williams was barely even on my radar as a 2019 prospect, and now he’s threatening to unseat Oliver as the second best player in the class. I am shooketh.
So how do the two players compare across the board on their college resumes? I dove into their tape and production to take a look.
If this battle were fought purely on paper, Oliver would win in a landslide. The man already has 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks this season, pushing his three-year career totals to 52 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in 31 games. And to be honest, those numbers don’t even do his performances justice.
But at the same time, neither do Williams’ numbers. He has an impressive 8.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season, but there is so much context to consider in Williams’ stats. First, he’s currently playing in a rotation along Alabama’s ridiculously deep defensive line. Second, the SEC is still much more of a running than a passing conference, which limits a lot of the opportunities to get to the quarterback.
Third, Williams has had a significant number of plays where the quarterback is in his grasp and throws the ball away. Watch his tape, it is littered with these types of plays. The low sack numbers are not at all indicative of a lack of pass rush talent.
Burst is the first of three key traits that I value the most to analyze and grade interior defensive line talent. Both players pass this one with flying colors, despite the fact that their stances will need work at the next level.
Even from a square stance playing in the A-gaps, one of Oliver’s biggest strengths in his first step. He has elite explosiveness off the ball coming from his twitched-up lower half, threatening his opponent directly off the ball. This may be the hardest trait for certain offensive linemen to overcome 1v1, because if you can’t match Oliver athletically, you need to be a technical wizard to slow him down.
— SWC Round-Up (@swcroundup) October 20, 2018
I’m not sure any defensive tackle will be able to trump Oliver’s athleticism, but Williams is close. What I like about Williams is that there is no snap-jumping and no inconsistency. He’s consistently one of the first players off the ball, possessing exceptional reactions to the snap without getting too deep in the backfield.
Williams isn’t as twitchy as Oliver, but he’s plenty quick and probably has a slightly better sense of when to throttle down to maintain gap control. Technique and spatial awareness are paramount to playing defensive line at Alabama, so you’ll see those priorities show up in Williams’ tape. But if he kicks to 3-technique in the NFL and works from a staggered stance more, I bet you’ll see him shooting gaps as well.
Again, you won’t find a weakness here from either player. It might be the biggest strength of both of their games, and the most natural. Oliver is 6-foot-1 and Williams is listed 6-foot-3, and both play with that kind of built-in leverage that make them impossible to supplant despite not being the biggest defensive tackles.
They also get into your pads right off of the snap. There is no mistaking who is in control with either of these players on any given snap. Both of them will physically take you places you don’t want to go if you’re an opposing offensive lineman. Power comes from leverage and hand placement, not your listed weight on the roster.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) October 17, 2018
Good luck reaching Williams on zone runs. Too quick, too aware and too good with his hands. That’s a Missouri offensive lineman he is tossing aside like a small child. Insane.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) July 28, 2018
Anyone who tells you “Ed Oliver wins more with quickness and athletic ability than raw power” is being lazy and hasn’t actually watched him. The dude is a complete freight train and has physically manhandled the AAC for three years. Double teams don’t even help, as Oliver is too low and anchored to the ground for opponents to find any good surface area to displace him.
Edge: Push. There’s no way you can dock either player in this category.
With all due respect to Ed Oliver, this is Quinnen Williams’ area of expertise. The redshirt sophomore has truly rare hand usage, not only as a run defender, which we’ve already witnessed in the clip above, but also as a pass rusher. The list of collegiate interior defensive linemen that I’ve ever scouted with his hand usage is extremely short.
How would you like to sub in for one play & face Quinnen Williams for this… pic.twitter.com/vgL6xksIDm
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 15, 2018
I mean, Lord have mercy. The tackle literally can’t get there to double him fast enough, because Williams already has the guard several yards deep. He just finds leverage points and drives guys to the moon.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) October 7, 2018
And this one, as a redshirt freshman, tossing first round pick Isaiah Wynn aside. Unreal.
How many times did you see Isaiah Wynn discarded like this in college? Quinnen Williams man pic.twitter.com/IyDZhSWMZm
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) September 27, 2018
Oliver’s hand usage, especially in the run game, is exceptional. He doesn’t have the longest arms, but he knows how to use them to his advantage to stay clean and shed blockers. But as a pass rusher, one of his biggest concerns is that he relies more on his natural athleticism than having a bevy of moves to get to the quarterback.
Not so with Williams. His tape is littered with rush moves. He beat his opponent cleanly almost every snap of the Ole Miss game. And that’s one of the best offensive lines in the country. Texas A&M was more of the same.
#Bama DT Quinnen Williams (@QuinnenD1) beats his man with a club/swim. Pressures the QB, who makes a poor decision & throws an INT. Pressure leads to turnovers! #PassRush #RollTide pic.twitter.com/2gDCFpEwtX
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) September 25, 2018
I break the secondary traits up into four categories: Rush Moves, Mental Processing, Range and Stack-Shed (ability to get off blocks).
Rush Moves goes to Williams, as I already mentioned. Oliver has flashed a spin and some other techniques at times, but too often when his first move is stopped he doesn’t have a secondary plan of attack. That will be one of the key areas for him to improve in the NFL, and one of the biggest differences between he and Aaron Donald, a player who he is often compared to, as prospects.
If Oliver develops a more consistent plan of attack and learns to beat opponents in a variety of ways, look out. He might be the most athletic defensive tackle we’ve ever scouted, with incredible range, change-of-direction and ability to play in space. Oliver has a linebacker’s movement skills in a defensive tackle’s body.
Really nice redirect from Houston DL Ed Oliver. pic.twitter.com/JScf8jhSwd
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) March 2, 2018
I recommend blocking Ed Oliver next time. pic.twitter.com/w6nL0wreLV
— Max Olson (@max_olson) September 23, 2017
I love Quinnen Williams and think he is clearly a great athlete for his position, but he ain’t doing that. Nobody is. Oliver takes the Range category with ease.
I’ll give Mental Processing and Stack-Shed to Williams, while recognizing that Oliver is good in the first area and excellent in the second. The most surprising thing to me about Williams’ game is how good he is at finding the football while engaged at the line of scrimmage. Typically that takes awhile to develop, but he is just so aware of everything a defensive lineman should be aware of – depth from the line of scrimmage, misdirection tendencies, traps, quarterback movement – on any given snap.
— New Account (@ftbeard_17) October 14, 2018
Size/Level of Competition
If there is an area of understandable concern for Oliver, it is his size and level of competition. There is very little he can do about either, outside of rewinding time and choosing to go somewhere other than Houston. I’ve been told Oliver’s weight is between 270-275 pounds, which would make him the lightest full-time interior defensive lineman in the NFL.
There is no doubt that he is small for his position (smaller than Donald, who was 285) and that given that size, his level of competition would come into question as a result. The concerns are valid and should be an important part of his evaluation, but I think his traits and tape are just overwhelming. There is a small amount of risk with Oliver given the projection to a totally different level of football, especially if he weighs in lighter than expected, but it’s a risk I’ll take in the top five picks of the draft. His ceiling is that high.
Williams doesn’t hit the 300-pound mark either, but is still listed between 285-290 pounds, which seems accurate when looking at him. I very much doubt his size will be a concern to anyone in the NFL, especially given his sheer dominance against the best conference in college football. I will say, the best two tests of Williams’ short career at Alabama will come in his next two contests against LSU and Mississippi State.
Right now, Oliver remains on top of my interior defensive line rankings, but this one is going to come down to the wire. I haven’t run either player through my formal grading scale yet, and Combine testing will also play a big role in what will likely be very similar film grades.
Essentially, Williams is the more pro-ready player due to his technique and mental processing, while Oliver is still outstanding in both of those areas while also being the superior athlete. Yet Williams is still an impressive athlete with all the physical traits you could really want at the position. There simply isn’t much downside to either player.
Are you catching on yet? Both of these guys are incredible, and while one will need to be ranked above the other before it is all said and done, the duo should be under the blue chip section of every draft board. The draft process always reveals a few things we didn’t notice before, but right now Oliver’s ceiling is still alluring enough for me to bet on that upside. Barely. Maybe. By a hair? Man. I don’t know.
Good thing we’ve got six months to figure this out. I might need every second. This is going to be fun.