Leonard Williams is arguably the greatest enigma on the New York Jets roster.
Drafted sixth overall by the Jets in 2015, it was a semi-questionable selection due to the plethora of talent the Jets already had on the defensive front, but the pick was legitimized because Williams was considered by many as “the best player in the draft.”
While fans will argue ad nauseam over Williams’ value, one point that will not be debated is whether or not Williams has been a good player for the Jets. Since being drafted, he has been among one of the most active run-stuffing defensive linemen in the league and a solid pass-rusher. Over his first three years, Williams consistently topped the leaderboards in run stops and quarterback hits.
However, where the debate begins is on whether or not Williams is great - or if he can ever get there.
Williams busted out for 7.0 sacks in his second season after posting only 3.0 in his first. Fans hoped that was a sign he was leaping from “solid” to “dominant” - but instead, Williams’ production has stalled. He dipped to only 2.0 sacks last year. He has 3.0 sacks in the first half of 2018, pacing him for 6.0 - but Williams’ overall production has dropped significantly. His run stuffs are way down and he has had five games this year with 2 tackles or less and 0 sacks; already matching the total Muhammad Wilkerson posted last year in his much-maligned 2017 campaign.
One argument presented in defense of Williams is that his off-the-statsheet impact is sublime, and that a lot of what he brings to the table is not captured by the traditional box score.
In particular, many argue his sack production is hampered due to a significant amount of double teams thrown his way, due mostly to lackluster talent around him on the edges.
I was curious to see exactly how much Williams has been doubled this year in the pass game. I went back and charted the amount of times he has been doubled as a pass rusher in each game this year, and compared those totals to his tally of pass rushes per game to get a look at the rate of which he has been doubled game-by-game. In addition, I charted my perspective of how many pressures he accumulated per game.
Loosely, I defined “doubles” as snaps in which Williams either:
A. Drew the attention of 2+ blockers immediately off the snap / was clearly the assignment of 2+ blockers
B. If not doubled at the snap, ended up engaged with (impacted through contact or a lane shut down) 2+ blockers simultaneously for at least two seconds before the ball was thrown or the quarterback ditched the pocket
Here is what I found.
On the season, I charted Williams as significantly “doubled” on 46 of 264 pass rushes - 17.4%.
J.B. Long of ESPN Los Angeles shared the following list showing the top seven defenders who have seen double teams on the highest portion of pass rush snaps.
Based on those numbers, it can be assumed Williams’ 17.4% double team rate would place him somewhere in the top 10-15 leaguewide.
You can also see the pressure numbers I counted. I did credit Williams with 4 pressures each against Denver and Indianapolis. In those two games, he did post a lot of box score production with a combined 2 sacks and 4 QB hits. So, with those pressures added, those two outings look like legitimately very strong ones.
However, he had no more than 2 pressures in any other game. He created absolutely nothing against the Bears. On the year, his pass rush production has been maybe slightly above average at best. When you compare him to the other players near the top of the list in doubles, he clearly does not measure up production-wise.
So, with all of this said, I fall somewhere in the middle of the Leonard Williams debate. I do think he is having a down year and has disappointed us a bit. The bar was set high when the Jets drafted him with a “best player available” mentality. It’s fair to expect more. Instead of continuing the upward trend he was on in year two and becoming a megastar, he plateaued in 2017, and has arguably performed much worse than his usual standards this year. He is making it extremely difficult to buy into extending him with an expensive long-term deal.
At the same time, I think the impact the impact of Williams’ presence needs to be appreciated. Despite this down start to the year, I think he still has been at least a solid player, even if not the very good one we became accustomed to seeing. Many of the snaps in which Williams drew extra attention resulted in a pressure or sack by a teammate who was either unblocked or presented with a 1-on-1 matchup. While pressures and hits are not nearly as valuable as sacks, they do have an impact, and Williams has created a lot of positive defensive plays with his pressure.
In the bigger picture, when you stack up Williams against the rest of the 2015 first round, he is easily one of the top five players in the group - top seven or eight at worst.
So, yes, Williams is having a down year, has disappointed a bit relative to expectations, and probably will not become a superstar. Regardless, at his worst, he is still a nice player.
The question is, how valuable is a “nice” player?