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NY Jets Spotlight: Leonard Williams

Los Angeles Chargers v New York Jets Photo by Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

Welcome to the Spotlight. Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week. Today’s player in the spotlight is New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams.

Leonard Williams is a 24 year old, 6’ 5”, 300 pound defensive lineman out of USC. Williams was originally drafted by the Jets with the 6th overall selection in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. With good quickness and agility, great explosiveness, and outstanding leverage and strength, Williams was widely considered at the time the best player in the 2015 draft.

After a promising rookie year Williams really blossomed in his second season. He registered career highs of 68 tackles, 7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles in a 2016 Pro Bowl campaign. It was an outstanding sophomore year. Unfortunately Williams has been unable to repeat that brilliance since. In 2017 his tackles declined to a career low of 47, and he registered just 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. 2018 has thus far been more of the same, with few impact plays. In 2018 Williams is on track for 4 sacks and what would be a career low of 44 tackles; on the bright side he is on track for a career high of 16 tackles for loss.

Recently Wiliams’ slide has seemed to intensify. Over his first 42 games Williams recorded 6 or more tackles 10 times; over his last 10 games he has done it just once. Over his first 42 games Wiliams recorded 11.5 sacks; in his last 10 games he has just 1.5. Over his first 42 games Williams averaged 4.0 tackles per game; in his last 10 games he’s averaging 2.2. Over his first 42 games Williams did not play a single game without registering a tackle; in his last 10 games Williams has been shut out 4 times. In short, Williams has gone from a Pro Bowl player to just another solid guy on the defensive line, a guy who rarely makes impact plays and increasingly rarely even makes tackles.

If the Jets are to turn around their 2018 season, Leonard Williams is one of the key guys who will need to step up his play. Today’s game against the Denver Broncos presents a good time to begin the turnaround. The key to stopping the Broncos is simple: shut down the run and force quarterback Case Keenum to beat you through the air. The Broncos ground game is led by two outstanding rookies in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, and an offensive line that has done a nice job opening holes for them. No team has held the Broncos under 120 yards rushing this season. If the Jets are to have a a chance in this game, a big part of the puzzle will be the Jets defensive front limiting the Broncos ground game. As the Jets best player on that defensive front, it will be incumbent upon Leonard Williams to lead the defensive attack and shut down the talented Broncos running backs. Now would be a great time for Leonard Williams to break out of his slump and take over the game on the defensive side of the ball. Consistently blowing up his assignment in the run game would be huge; a sack or two when the Broncos pass would also help enormously.

The Broncos can’t really hurt you much with their passing game under Case Keenum. They haven’t put up more than 230 yards passing, nor more than one passing touchdown, in each of their last three games. Shut down the run and you have a good chance to win. This would be a great game for Leonard Williams to set up shop in the Broncos backfield. If we see Williams and his defensive line cohorts shut down the run and put enough pressure on Keenum to disrupt the passing game then the Jets will have a good shot at winning at home against the Broncos. Williams could prove to be a pivotal player in this game if he gets his game on track. Leonard Williams, this is your time in the spotlight. Time to recapture the glory of your first two years and lead the Jets to a much needed victory at home.