Last summer, I listed the best college football player at each jersey number. Eastern Michigan's Maxx Crosby was No. 92, not Alabama's Quinnen Williams. And with all due respect to Crosby, one of the best defensive players in MAC history, I misfired badly in projecting the potential of Williams. I was not alone.
Williams was a former four-star recruit who was productive as a redshirt freshman in 2017 (6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks) and was no longer battling Daron Payne and Joshua Frazier for playing time. Still, he wasn't listed among the top 100 players in college football by Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, or NFL.com, nor did he make any notable all-conference teams or earn any preseason awards.
Who could be this year's Quinnen Williams?
Justin Madubuike – Texas A&M
Justin Madubuike's Twitter bio has one work: "Patience…"
Two of Texas A&M's seven draft picks were defensive tackles who combined for 21 tackles for loss and 13 sacks: Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke.
Madubuike is a 6-foot-3, 304-pound junior and former four-star prospect from McKinney, Texas. He redshirted in 2016, made 20 tackles in 13 appearances in 2017 and had a mini-breakout performance in 2018 with 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks (and a team-leading five hurries).
A true three-down player who can shoot the B-gap with great hand strength and quickness and doesn't give up on plays, Madubuike will see big snaps and big opportunities to boost his draft stock.
Nyles Pinckney – Clemson
Nyles Pinckney has waited patiently. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle redshirted in 2016, averaged barely 10 snaps per game in 2017 and was productive as a reserve last year (26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss).
Now, after waiting behind Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, Nyles Pinckney is primed for a breakout season and jump up draft boards. While he doesn't have the pass-rushing potential of Wilkins, he still provides some interior pocket pressure and is stout against the run.
He missed spring practice while recovering from pectoral muscle surgery but is expected to be ready for the season.
Marvin Wilson – Florida State
The most highly touted recruit on this list (and a little higher on the national radar than pre-2018 Quinnen Williams), Marvin Wilson was a top-10 player in the 2017 class and top-ranked defensive tackle.
After minimal impact in 12 games as a true freshman, Wilson had 42 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, though was overshadowed by Brian Burns' rising draft stock and a miserable five-win season.
The 6-foot-5, 314-pounder established himself as one of the best interior players in the ACC last year and could establish himself as one of the best interior players in the country this year.