The three-year NFL plan was always a possibility for Jonah Williams.
For Quinnen Williams, Josh Jacobs and Irv Smith Jr., it would have been too good to be true.
All four underclassmen will enter the 2019 NFL draft, they announced at a news conference Friday. Jonah Williams, Jacobs and Smith will forego their seniors seasons to turn pro. Quinnen Williams, who just completed his redshirt sophomore season, had two years of eligibility remaining.
“It does our program a tremendous amount of positive recognition when we have guys that have tremendous careers here and are going to be top draft picks,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “We’ve always tried to provide our players with the kind of information from NFL teams, from football people, to help them make a good business decision about their future as football players. We certainly are pleased and proud of the young men that we have here today and the announcements they want to make.”
Jonah Williams and Quinnen Williams are both widely expected to be first-round picks. Quinnen Williams is projected as high as No. 2 overall by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., while Jonah Williams could be the first offensive tackle taken.
That would be the next step in a plan that has unfolded since Jonah Williams signed in Alabama’s 2016 class as one of the nation’s top offensive tackles.
“I kind of had a plan in mind since I was in high school,” Williams said. “I took AP classes my junior and senior year so I could have more credits and graduate early from high school and enroll early here to get that extra 15 (credit hours) that first semester. There were a lot of things that I did. … I just felt that the time was right. I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit here and I’ve put everything (I could) on tape. I’ve started 44 games I’ve been here, these last 29 at left tackle, given up one sack in two years, zero this year. There’s a lot of things that I can be proud of, and I think now is a good time to move on and try my luck at the next level.”
Quinnen Williams, Jacobs and Smith all saw their status rise this year. 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. Jonah Williams described matching up against Quinnen Williams like trying to block “an almost 300-pound bar of soap.”
Quinnen Williams won 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.
“I dreamed of this day almost every day when I was a little kid when I was playing little league football in Birmingham,” he 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.”
He said it was a difficult decision and didn’t make his mind up until after the Clemson game. He consulted with his family and Saban, who he called “the Godfather of early leaving.”
Jacobs took a bigger role in the Alabama backfield with 640 rushing yards on 120 carries. He also caught 20 passes for 247 yards. He had 11 rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
“This decision has definitely been tough for me,” he said. “Even on the ride here, I still didn’t know exactly what choice I wanted to make.”
Jacobs had been lightly recruited for most of his high school career and was a late addition to the 2016 signing class. He finishes his Alabama career with 1,491 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns to go with 48 receptions for 571 yards and five scores.
Smith set school records with 710 yards and seven touchdowns, the best marks in Alabama history for a tight end. He was fourth on the team with 44 receptions and earned second team All-SEC honors by the league coaches. He was unable to make the press conference while attending a teammate’s wedding, but he made his decision official on Twitter.
“I am forever grateful for these memories,” he wrote. “All the wins were amazing; trophies will tarnish and rings will rust… but the skills and knowledge I learned during my time at the University of Alabama is something I will take with me for the rest of my life. My time with the Crimson Tide is one for the history books.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.