Late in the 2015 college football season, Alabama coach Nick Saban expressed his pleasure with what he and his staff had constructed along the defensive front.
Faced with the task of stopping the old-school running games of Arkansas and LSU as well as the spread schemes of Auburn and Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide had all shapes and sizes to combat what they would face on a particular Saturday. Da'Ron Payne, Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson and Dalvin Tomlinson were each in excess of 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds and could prevent holes from opening up for standout running backs such as Alex Collins of Arkansas or LSU's Leonard Fournette, while Jonathan Allen and Da'Shawn Hand were a bit leaner and quicker in assisting the outside linebackers on plays that got to the edge.
"The diversity that we have in those players is very helpful," Saban said at the time, "and the fact we have the depth is really a luxury, because we can roll guys in and not really lose a lot."
Alabama does not have as much depth across this year's defensive front, but the No. 1 Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) do possess Quinnen Williams, and that is accounting for a lot.
The 6-4, 295-pound defensive tackle from Birmingham began his redshirt sophomore year as the biggest question on a three-man front that returned starting ends Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis. Williams played in all 14 games for last season's national champions and collected a respectable 20 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, but this year's opening 51-14 rout of Louisville was his first collegiate start.
Williams heads into this week's game against No. 18 Mississippi State (6-3, 2-3) as one of the most feared defenders in the country, having ravaged LSU last Saturday night for 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He was named the national defensive player of the week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
"He made some tremendous plays, and I think he's one of the best defensive linemen that we've seen all year," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said this week. "He's a surefire first-round pick, and I think he's going to have a lot of success in the NFL with his quickness and his ability to use his hands and his pass-rush ability.
"He can make plays every down. He's a pass rusher. He can play the run. He has a lot of value and is a premier football player."
Williams has all the dreamy statistics a defensive tackle can desire, with 12 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hurries and four sacks this season. In the 39-10 win over Missouri on Oct. 13, he even experienced the thrill of sacking Drew Lock for a safety.
Yet the most staggering fact reflecting his all-around talent is that Williams — keep in mind his position — is still in the mix to lead Alabama in tackles. Heading into the Tide's 10th game, Williams has 43 tackles and trails only redshirt junior safety Deionte Thompson (51) and sophomore inside linebacker Dylan Moses (48).
"He is a really good all-around player because he's athletic and has really good initial quickness," Saban said. "Maybe size-wise he's not as big as some of the guys we've had in the past, but he does have good power and he can hold the point, so he doesn't get pushed around much.
"He is a very good every-down player."
The only downside to Williams, a solid four-star prospect in Alabama's 2016 signing class, is that he has become so dominant so fast that he might forgo his final two years of eligibility.
CBS came out with a mock draft this week that projected Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa as the top overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft and with Williams at No. 2. The same projection had Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, widely viewed as the best at his position for the last couple of seasons, as the No. 4 pick.
Alabama has been a draft factory at defensive tackle in recent seasons, with Reed going in the second round to Seattle in 2016, Tomlinson in the second round to the New York Giants in 2017 and Payne in the first round to Washington this past spring.
It's been a jaw-dropping season for Williams on the field and a head-spinning year for him away from it, especially from attention and recognition standpoints.
"I'm just doing what everybody did before me," Williams said this week in a news conference. "I owe the people who came before me and taught me to play like them. I really don't look at myself as the star.
"I'm just doing my job and handling my business."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.