Alabama is losing one of its best defensive players from 2018 to the NFL draft.

Redshirt sophomore Quinnen Williams is foregoing his final two years of eligibility to turn pro. He’s widely projected as a first-round pick and could go in the top 10 after a breakout season.

“Oh, I dreamed of this day almost every day when I was a little kid when I was playing little league football in Birmingham,” Williams said. “Just to see I made it become a reality, like I get a chance to enter the draft. Most people don’t get a chance from where I’m from. Most people have the athletic ability or the ability to do it, but can’t get past different distractions and stuff. To see I defeated all the odds and the negativity and just everything in general — I defeated it all — it made me emotional kind of to see that I’ve came from a long way.”

UA tight end Irv Smith Jr., running back Josh Jacobs and offensive lineman Jonah Williams also declared for the NFL draft on Wednesday.

Quinnen Williams played sparingly in 2017 but became one of the Crimson Tide’s biggest stars this season, finishing fifth on the team with 70 tackles and finishing second in the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss. He was third on the team with seven sacks this fall and tied for the team lead with 12 quarterback hurries.

“I impressed myself like after the third or fourth game,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m playing good.’ I know the coaching staff been knowing I can do this. They believed in me from Day 1. When they put me on the field and made me the starter, I knew that it was my time. I sat back, I played patient, I waited, I worked hard and I just believed in the coaching staff in general and what they wanted to do for me.” 

That mentality paid off and pushed Williams to win the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s top interior lineman. He was a unanimous first-team All-American and a first-team All-SEC choice. He was also a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player. Teammate Jonah Williams, also projected as a first-round pick, described matching up against Quinnen Williams like trying to block “an almost 300-pound bar of soap.”

Alabama is also losing senior Isaiah Buggs from the defensive line. Buggs led the team with 9.5 sacks and added 51 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss. Junior defensive lineman Raekwon Davis previously announced that he would return for his senior season.

“The main thing is about staying level-headed and keep working,” Williams said. “Don’t think about where you’re at right then, just think about how the hard work is going to pay off in the future.”