FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Quincy Williams has been tackling his way out of his younger brother's massive shadow for years.
The New York Jets linebacker, who's almost 16 months older than teammate and sibling Quinnen, was the “other” Williams brother through high school and college. And then in the biggest moments of their football careers.
Quinnen was the first-round pick of the Jets in 2019 out of Alabama, the third overall selection. He was a 6-foot-3, 300-pound national champion considered one of the premier defensive lineman in the country.
Meanwhile, Quincy waited until the next night when he went in the third round to Jacksonville. He was a 5-11, 230-pound lesser-known linebacker at Murray State.
“When I first got drafted, the thing was, who is Quincy Williams?” he recalled Friday. "And everybody was like, 'Oh, that’s Quinnen who played for Alabama’s brother. So most people would take it as like, ‘I’m a person, I’m a person,’ and just be mad about it. But then I just put that as a chip on my shoulder like I had to make a name for myself.
“That’s the realest thing, so I use it as like ammunition, for real.”
It certainly shows in his play.
While Quinnen is a space-eating run stuffer who shoves offensive linemen aside on his way to taking down quarterbacks, Quincy is a heat-seeking missile who slams into anyone trying to get past him.
“My No. 1 thing is just running through people,” said a smiling Quincy Williams, who ranks second to C.J. Mosley with a career-high 51 tackles. “So that’s the main thing. And at first, it’s like the crowd ‘ooohs.’ I love that. It feeds me. Then all of a sudden, it’s my teammates that get hyped about it. ...
"So it’s basically like me setting the tone for my teammates and my teammates rallying behind it. And I love that part of it.”
He started in place of Jarrad Davis last week and had 15 total tackles in New York's 24-17 loss to Miami, the most for a Jets player since David Harris had 17 in 2009.
“One of his superpowers is speed,” coach Robert Saleh said. “He’s one of the faster linebackers in football, if you just look at his GPS numbers. He has the luxury of taking a step before triggering because whatever he lost at the snap, he can regain because he’s so fast and long.”
Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich remembers scouting Williams at Murray State leading up to the draft and loving what he saw.
“I fought hard to try to get him in Atlanta and for us to draft him,” Ulbrich recalled. "Obviously, it didn’t work out. Spent a day with him, worked him out, the whole deal. He’s got that stuff you can’t coach. He’s got obviously the athleticism, the explosiveness, the speed and all of that. He’s also got instincts that are really rare.
“He can’t always articulate what he sees, but he sees it and he reacts. At the same time, he’s a hitter.”
Williams spent his first two NFL seasons mostly as a backup linebacker who started eight games as a rookie, and as a core special teams player. He also dealt with a few injuries, and was waived by the Jaguars when the team made its final cuts.
The Jets swooped in and claimed him the next day, reuniting him with his brother. Williams worked his way into the starting lineup at inside linebacker opposite Mosley for five straight games after the season opener as Davis recovered from an ankle injury suffered during New York's preseason game at Green Bay.
“He’s got some stuff,” Ulbrich said. “He’s a guy that is so far from what he will become. Not even close to being a finished product. He’s got a long way to go and we’re excited about him.”
Davis returned to his starting role last month, with Williams going back to playing mostly special teams. But Davis still isn't 100% healthy, so the Jets put Williams back in the starting lineup last Sunday — and he was all over the field.
“My first two years, I was playing on raw talent: I'm faster than you,” he said. “My eyes would be in the wrong spot, but I'd still make the play and maybe a good play, but if I was technical, I could've made it a lot faster if I had been looking at the right keys and stuff.”
That's what has been improving drastically, through picking the brains of Mosley and Davis and devouring the playbook. Williams knows exactly where plays are heading now, and takes even quicker first steps.
“The play just looks so much easier, and most people are like, it’s natural to him, it was a natural thing,” Williams said. “And it really does just because the preparation I did, and that’s what they harp on here at the Jets.”
Williams called stepping back and watching how Davis prepares “a wonderful experience” and insisted he didn’t feel he was ”downgraded” because he learned how to better prepare from a veteran. Williams incorporated some of the things he picked up from Davis and added them to his approach.
“You have like your way, then you have the professional way,” Williams said. “So I want to be a pro in this league a long time."
And with each fierce tackle, force everyone to know his name.
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Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press