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Quincy Williams’ self-evaluation during the off-season showed that his greatest strength can also be his biggest weakness.
The 25-year-old linebacker’s aggressiveness and ability to deliver the big hit enabled him to go from August waiver claim to starting linebacker for the New York Jets, and he placed seventh in the league in tackles for loss or no gain among linebackers with 15, per Pro Football Focus.
But he also recorded a woeful overall grade of 44.2 from the analytics company because of his tendency to over-pursue in search of those big plays and big hits.
Williams has vowed to fix that flaw in 2022, and his quest to do so—and potential success—could mirror that of the Jets themselves, who are trying to work their way up from rock bottom as a defense in the NFL rankings in 2021.
Williams played 879, which computes to 78% of the Jets’ defensive snaps last season, activating an escalator clause that raised his salary from $965,000 last season to $2.54 million this year, per Over The Cap. Williams is in the final year of his rookie contract, and thus the Jets and general manager Joe Douglas will have to make a decision on him salary-wise very soon.
Williams’ overly aggressive play was spotlighted in the Jets’ 30-9 loss to visiting New Orleans last Dec. 12. On Alvin Kamara’s 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, while playing left outside linebacker, Williams failed to set the edge and instead tried to fill a gap. Kamara juked cornerback Bryce Hall and carried safety Ashtyn Davis over the goal line for the score.
On a second-and-12 play from the New York 45 in the third quarter, Williams realized too late that the Saints were setting up a screen to Tony Jones. By the time Williams reversed his momentum, he was out of the play and Jones was on his way to a 19-yard gain that helped set up a field goal.
Williams, the older brother of standout Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, indicated recently a point of emphasis for him during the off-season was learning “What’s my job and how does it fit in the (defensive) scheme. … I’m working on my football IQ.”
His internal debate shows off his obvious confidence.
“When do I need to go fast, when do I need to slow it down?” he asked rhetorically. “When do I need to play in position and then let my superpowers take over?” Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said last December he believes Williams, a third-round pick of Jacksonville in 2019, has star potential.
“I still think there’s way more in the tank for him,” Ulbrich said. “I think that he’s a good player that’s playing good (and) that has the ability, the potential in his body to be a Pro Bowl-type player.”
Williams, a safety in college who was converted to linebacker in the pros before being waived by the Jaguars, feels the same way.
“I’d like to speak it into existence,” he said. “I will be a Pro Bowler this year.”
“You’ve got a guy that’s got the ability to make that splash play,” Ulbrich said, “because of the speed and the explosiveness and the instinct that he has.”
True. The challenge now is to balance that with the ability to also diagnose plays specifically designed to take advantage of those instincts and use them against Williams by getting him out of position.
As he says, “It’s a very thin line from an A gap to a B gap (approach). If I take one step too far, I can (give up) a cutback lane. Now it’s (a matter of) learning to take every single step the same, because I know the (Jets’ defender) beside me is taking every one of his steps the same. My steps have to be the exact same.
“It’s like slowing your mind down,” added Williams, “going by the playbook, and when you see it, go.”
He added, “Trust is the biggest thing. It’s a big thing for us. It’s not just a word. You have to earn it. I feel like I’ve earned it.”
To be fair, Williams wasn’t the only Jets’ defender who had this problem last season. New York’s defense was hit throughout the season with misdirection, gadget plays, screen passes and the like for positive yardage and touchdowns.
Yet while they revamped their defensive line and secondary, the Jets didn’t tinker with their linebacking corps, instead relying on C.J. Mosley (team-high $17.5 million cap figure) and Williams to be the cornerstones. A lot of pressure is on them to perform better in 2022.