Many New York Giants fans were baffled when the fading club traded draft capital away to the crosstown Jets for underachieving defensive lineman Leonard Williams last October.
Williams was in the walk year of his contract and the Jets were going to do exactly that — let him walk — in free agency at the end of the season.
The Giants obviously didn’t care. General manager Dave Gettleman saw an opportunity to grab a young veteran for his defensive front and went for it. The Giants and Williams are still at an impasse contract-wise. Williams will play the upcoming season under the $16.1 million franchise tag. In the interim, the two sides will keep talking.
The 26-year-old Williams has not been as disappointing as Jet fans have made him out to be. As far as interior lineman go, Williams stacks up with the best in the NFL.
QB Hits among interior DL since 2015:
Aaron Donald – 93
Leonard Williams – 82
Fletcher Cox – 64 pic.twitter.com/AdymbPPwks
— PFF NY Giants (@PFF_Giants) August 24, 2020
Williams is no longer considered an interior lineman, however. The Giants have been lining him up as defensive end in their 3-4 alignment. According to Pro Football Reference, Williams had 11 QB hits in his eight games with the Giants last year but only recorded a half a sack.
Williams knows he must get home with his pass rush more frequently now that he’s lining up at defensive end. At that position, QB hits mean little. It’s the sacks that will determine his performance and how much teams will be willing to play him next March when he’s eligible for free agency again. That is, of the Giants don’t sign him to a long term deal beforehand.
The former USC star has been working with new defensive line coach Sean Spencer to break down his game and to approach things by sticking to the basics.
“I think one thing is he’s doing a great job of taking the classroom work, the work we do in the meetings prior to practice and being able to bring that out on the field and do the things we’re asking him to do,” said Spencer. “Clearly, as you guys know, he’s an unbelievable athlete. I think he’s starting to put it all together. He’s always had the tools. He’s working on refining his craft right now. He looks strong, powerful like you said. I’m just happy with his progress right now.”
“I was able to get away with just being better than my opponent all my life, in high school and college,” Williams said this week. “Whereas now instead of just trying to be physically better or faster than my opponent, now just bringing it down to the basics. Playing technique every play and letting my technique take me to the play instead of thinking about the TFL (tackle for loss), thinking about the sack and thinking about the end result of the big play. Just play my technique every down and the big play will come.”
The Giants are depending on it.