The suspension of Sheldon Richardson definitely took a lot of New York Jets fans by surprise. Though it hasn't gotten nearly as much press as future Hall of Fame suspensions such as Tom Brady or Antonio Gates, Richardson was the best player on the Jets last season and had nowhere to go but up in year 3. As John B pointed out shortly after the suspension, the Jets' decision to draft Leonard Williams helps to mitigate the loss of Richardson. Obviously it would be a bit much to expect a rookie to come in and play like Richardson week 1, but expectations will be high for the #6 overall pick. Luckily for the Jets, it sounds like his transition to the NFL is going smoothly.
Todd Bowles pointed out that Leonard Williams carries himself extremely well for a 21 year old. While you obviously shouldn't read into a coach's praise for his new players too much, this comes as no surprise to those who watched Williams in interviews. If I didn't know he was a rookie, I might have thought he was at least a few years older. He's certainly more mature than I was at his age. This doesn't mean that he's guaranteed to succeed, but it's undeniably a good thing. The Jets should feel confident that Williams won't end up getting suspended like Sheldon Richardson or failing to show up on time like Geno Smith or failing to prepare for a game like Michael Vick or...OK, the Jets really need some discipline. And the Big Cat has it.
In addition to his maturity, Williams was probably the best player in the 2014 draft on tape. I hate to use the phrase "can't miss prospect" most of the time, but rarely do you get a player who is so refined on and off the field. Williams frequently won with great technique. He frequently won with superior, freakish athleticism. He frequently won with quickness off the snap. His athleticism and maturity have also been noticed by his new teammates. In addition to his best nose tackle claim, Harrison recently had raved about Williams to the media. Here's some of what he had to say:
"Damn good guy, heck of an athlete, freakish athlete," Harrison said of Williams on Thursday, per NJ.com. "He picked up on what we've installed. He picked up on that pretty quick, so it's allowed him to play faster than what other rookies have been doing. That's a credit to him, man, because it's not easy to learn an NFL defense.
"And he communicates with us. He talks. That's one thing you don't find in a lot of rookies. They're quiet and they're just trying to learn. He talks. He wants to know: 'OK, what are you doing on this play?' He's trying to make sure he knows what you're doing, so that he can adjust his game to that."
So it's training camp season and everyone is in the best shape of their life, et cetera et cetera, but it's always nice to hear. It sounds like the team is meshing well and Williams is picking things up quickly. I particularly like how Harrison says he "wants to know." It reminded me of a recent NFL.com interview with Willie McGinest. He asked Williams if the surrounding talent had helped Williams learn anything right off the bat, and the Big Cat didn't even need to think about it before he brought up a tip he'd gleaned from Harrison about offensive linemen stances. Training camp hasn't even started yet and he's being taught by some of the best in the game. And it's sticking.
I really think that Leonard Williams can make the transition quickly. He's seems like the type of player with his eye on the ball and a legitimate desire to be the best in the game. He's exactly the kind of player you'd make the "face of the franchise" a few years down the road. He's got the athleticism, maturity, technique, and desire to be great on and off the field. That said, no rookie could come in week 1 and play like Richardson did down the stretch last season. After J.J. Watt (who is essentially King of PFF), no 3-4 DE rated higher than Richardson overall. Watt wasn't even that dominant in weeks 1-4 of his rookie season. Williams will not be able to completely fill the hole Richardson dug the team into weeks 1-4, but I would expect him to make the leap much more quickly than the average rookie. By the end of the season, he may even be forcing the Jets to use more 4-3 to keep everyone on the field. I'm happy to hear that he's putting in the work and eager to learn. Personally, I can't wait to see what he does with his opportunities to start the season.