The Jets were in the midst of their walk-through before practice on Wednesday morning when Robert Saleh pulled Quinnen Williams aside and had a short conversation.
The 24-year-old defensive tackle had just been named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his dominant performance in the Jets’ 27-10 win over the Packers on Sunday in Green Bay, where he produced two sacks, a forced fumble, a blocked field goal and two tackles for loss, and his head coach wanted to deliver a quiet message to him.
“You’ve got to do it over and over and over again. You’ve got to be able to do it when teams are about to pay more attention to you,’’ Saleh told Williams.
“I fully expect him to get a lot of attention this weekend,’’ Saleh said, referring to Sunday’s game in Denver. “It’s going to be a cat-and-mouse game and he’s got to be relentless. He’s got to play every play like a championship play and when his opportunities come, he’s got to win those one-on-ones.’’
Not that Saleh believes Williams, one of the team’s most consistent, high-effort players, was going to rest on his performance against the Packers, but sometimes head coaches like to push buttons.
“I was laughing and joking with him and I had to tell him, ‘Coach, I came from Alabama, where coach [Nick] Saban has already instilled in me that all this stuff [outside accolades] is rat poison,’ ’’ Williams told The Post. “That’s something I’ve always taken with me. He understood where I came from and the things coach Saban instilled in me. He was just making sure I’m OK and my mind’s in the right direction.’’
Williams’ direction right now is on a fast track to a large contract extension as he inserts himself into the conversation about the top defensive tackles in the NFL.
His seven quarterback pressures and two sacks against the Packers were career highs. Through six games, Williams leads all pass rushers from the interior defensive line with five sacks and 11 quarterback hits. His 20 pressures rank second. His 84.4 pass-rush grade is the sixth-best among interior defensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus.
He, too, leads all defensive tackles in pressure rate (14.8 percent) and sack rate (3.7 percent) this season among players with at least 80 pass rushes.
All of this has put Williams, in his fourth season, in the conversation with the likes of the Rams’ Aaron Donald, the Eagles’ Fletcher Cox and the Chiefs’ Chris Jones as the best players at his position.
“He’s having a season of his life,’’ Jets defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers said. “What players do in whole seasons he’s done in six games.’’
Williams is on a pace for 14 sacks, 31 quarterback hits and 56 pressures through a full 17-game season. Those are elite numbers, NFL Defensive Player of the Year numbers.
“I’m used to playing with some dominant defensive tackles, like Fletcher Cox,’’ veteran defensive lineman Vinny Curry said. “The dude, the way he’s playing right now, has got to be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s playing out of his mind right now.’’
Williams has positioned himself for a huge contract. He’s earning about $5 million this season in base salary and roster bonus and is due to make $9.6 million in 2023 with the Jets exercising his fifth-year option. The Jets, however, surely will lock him up with a lucrative extension as soon as this season is over.
Williams, who said he’s not focused on his contract, figures to sign something on the low end similar to the four-year, $72 million contract Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen got. Donald, the standard at the position, is playing on a three-year, $95 million deal.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said Williams is “truly operating on a level of dominance that not many guys, no matter how hard they play or how hard they try, are able to achieve.’’
Dominance is a term Williams humbly shied away from Wednesday.
“I definitely haven’t gotten to that word yet, just because of all the learning I have to do,’’ Williams said. “I still have a lot of growth to do. But I definitely feel like I’m on the tight path to becoming dominant. I’m just not there just yet.
“I look at myself every single day and I know the player I want to become. I see Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox and Chris Jones at their peak and all the things they have accomplished and I want to become that type of player. I want to be on that path. I haven’t nearly reached the potential I feel I can reach.’’
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