TAMPA — Quinnen Williams is a mama’s boy.
“I call it the favorite child,’’ he says.
Marquischa Henderson Williams and the second of her four children were inseparable. He was the one she confided in when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2005. When it returned in 2010, he was the last one to speak to her at her hospital bed side when she died at age 37.
Quinnen was 12.
“She pulled me in and she was like ‘Quinnen, you’re going to be the one who takes care of everybody, you’re going to be the one to like make sure everybody is straight I need you to do that.’ ’’
Williams smiled as he recounted the story for an interview on ESPN. He has grown to be 6-foot-4 and 303-pounds. But the round face, the cherubic cheeks and the braces covering his teeth give him a child-like look when he speaks.
A year ago, about the time Alabama was preparing for its spring football game, Williams didn’t know if he was even going to start. He had played only 151 defensive snaps as a redshirt freshman. But on Thursday, he will be among the top five players to walk out on a stage at the NFL draft in Nashville.
If the Bucs had a wish list that could be fulfilled in the draft, it would likely start with Williams.
“It’s tremendous,’’ Williams said. “I look back every day almost and look at where I came from in a year. ... I was just like 280 trying to get bigger to play nose guard around this time last year.’’
It’s not easy to get on the field at Alabama. You have to wait your turn, which usually means waiting behind a prospective NFL draft pick. Such was the case with Williams. He played behind Daron Payne, who was selected 13th overall last year by the Washington Redskins.
“After I knew Daron Payne was leaving to go first round in the draft, I knew it was my turn,” Williams said. “I knew they were going to have to fill in that hole and I wanted that job, and I was determined to play that position.’’
Williams played it better than anyone could imagine. He had seven sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in 623 defensive snaps. That earned him All Southeastern Conference and first-team All-America honors. He received the Outland Trophy for the nation’s best interior defensive lineman.
Even so, NFL teams are slow to embrace one-year starters in the draft. There is generally too much risk involved. How do you know if that season will become the outlier when they get to the next level?
But the league is changing. The game is changing. They don’t need 325-pound mounds of run stuffer to clog the middle. Offenses in the NFL are about speed and quickness. Quarterbacks don’t hold onto to the ball. Running backs and receivers are testing the perimeters.
The most valuable defensive player in the NFL last season was Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who used his quickness and to penetrate and disrupt the game. He led the league with 20.5 sacks.
“Just playing under Coach (Nick) Saban, we really don’t look at the rat poison of the media, the different mock drafts basically,” Williams said. “ ... I’m going to keep doing the little things during training. I’m going to keep paying attention to detail and being disciplined.
“I didn’t know I would end up here. I didn’t know until Coach Saban told me like a week after the national championship game that I was going to up in the NFL draft.’’
Whatever doubts remained, Williams ended them at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February.
He ran a 4.83 40-yard dash, the fastest time for a 300-pounder in the combine for about a decade, after downing four double-stuffed Oreos.
Nineteen teams had Williams as their highest-rated player in the draft, according to a poll conducted by NFL Network’s Charley Casserly.
“When I was done evaluating the tape, (I) thought he was the best defensive player in all of college football this year,’’ ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “The power that he has in addition to that quick first step, hand usage and finishing and then showing up in big games. When they needed him the most he was there –LSU, Georgia, the playoffs. Until he injured his hand, which he’s had repaired, he was the most dominant player in the College Football Playoff and the SEC Championship Game. So, I struggled with it, but I went with Quinnen just because I could sleep better at night knowing that I got the better football player.”
Clearly, the Bucs plan to move ahead without six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, whose $13 million salary for this season is not guaranteed and is expected to be either traded or released. Who better to pair with defensive tackle Vita Vea for the next four years?
“I know a lot of guys in front of me who were from where I’m from who were way better than me, had way more athletic ability, way more talent,” Williams said. “Even my brother (Quincy), way more talent than me, way faster, way stronger, way bigger, but didn’t have the same opportunity that I have.’’
Already, that opportunity has allowed him to see the country as he has traveled to meet with teams. He’s been training in Calabasas, Calif. He’s visited San Francisco and New York. Earlier this month, he met with the Bucs in Tampa Bay.
Even though his mother would’ve been against the idea, Williams recently added some tattoos to his arm: two breast cancer ribbons and an angel with wings wearing a No. 92 jersey.
The favorite child is about to keep everybody straight.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud