It was 40 years ago when the Jets last drafted a defensive lineman out of Alabama in the first round. It was Marty Lyons, who went on to play 10 years for the Jets and become a star with the “Sack Exchange” defense.
Forty years later, the Jets hope they have drafted another defensive lineman out of Alabama who can be a mainstay on their defense for the next decade or more in Quinnen Williams.
“It’s exciting to have another Alabama guy come in 40 years later,” Lyons said Friday afternoon. “I’m excited for him.”
The Jets took Lyons 14th overall in 1979 and then took Mark Gastineau a round later in one of their best drafts.
Lyons, who also serves as the color analyst on the Jets’ radio broadcasts, has seen Williams play for Alabama in person and on TV and watched him practice last fall, when he spent some time with Nick Saban during the week leading up to a game.
“Anytime you watched Alabama play, and they were on TV quite a bit, his number always popped out,” Lyons said. “He wasn’t taking a play off. He wasn’t one of those guys you’d see make a play every five or six plays. He was involved in every single play. He can definitely play three downs. You don’t need to substitute for a pass rusher. He’s got enough quickness that he can play over the center or play in the A gap between the guard and the center. It’s going to be interesting to see how they use him.”
• Jets’ NFL Draft tracker: Live round-by-round picks and analysis
That will be up to new Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Lyons was part of a great defensive line in the early 1980s along with Gastineau, Joe Klecko and Abdul Salaam. The Jets can only hope this group compares to that one. Along with Leonard Williams, Henry Anderson and Steve McLendon, the Jets feel Quinnen Williams can give them a formidable line.One question, though, is how the Jets will get all of them on the field at the same time. Lyons suggested the Jets could use Quinnen Williams like his Jets used Klecko and move him around the line, including lining up at nose tackle, but shading to one side, like Klecko famously did, to occupy not just the center but also a guard.
As for the idea the Jets should have drafted an edge rusher instead, Lyons said getting pressure up the middle is just as important.
“I think if you can push the pocket and you can tie up three guys and you can get a guy on the edge that’s going to be matched up one-on-one, you have a good chance of getting to the quarterback,” Lyons said. “You just don’t want those guards to pull out and double team those guys on the outside because then it’s hard to get to the quarterback. You’ve got to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable, and sometimes the only way to do that is to push the pocket from the inside rather than the outside.”Quinnen Williams wore No. 92 at Alabama, but Leonard Williams wears that with the Jets. Lyons is hoping Quinnen could end up in his old No. 93.
“Is he going to go up a number or down a number [from 92]?” Lyons asked. “It would be nice to see him go up a number. I’d be happy to see him wear 93. That would be something special for both him and me. We’ll see what happens.”
Whatever number Williams wears, Lyons knows the two already are linked.
“I’m going to try to have a bond with him,” Lyons said. “Coming out of Alabama there’s a certain foundation built, and it’s built through tradition. Even though there’s a 40-year gap from when I came out and he came out, that tradition goes back 100 years. That’s what makes Alabama so special. He played for coach Saban. I played for coach Bryant. I think both of the coaches prepare their athletes for the game of life. When you hear Quinnen speak, you know that he’s more than just a football player. That’s the part that impresses me the most.”