2018 sack total: 5.0
Career average per season: 4.25
Career snaps per sack: 202.7
Leonard Williams is one of the most puzzling players in the NFL. His disparity between quarterback hits and sacks is of an enormity that has been unparalleled over the past few seasons.
Over the past two seasons, Williams is tied for 12th in the league in quarterback hits, with 45. That’s an elite number. It’s tied for the third-highest total among 300+ pound defenders, behind only Fletcher Cox and Calais Campbell.
Over the same span, Williams is tied for 96th in sacks, with only 7.0.
While the average pressure is not as valuable as the average sack (since a sack is a guaranteed win for the defense and a pressure is not), pass rush victories and pressures do have significant value, and Williams has racked them up at a tremendous rate.
At the same time, Williams has converted an abnormally small amount of his wins into sacks. What to make of this?
I tend to fall in the middle when it comes to Williams debates. He definitely needs to rack up more sacks. Those plays are game-changers, and truly elite players along the defensive line collect a ton of them. Williams is certainly capable of racking up strong sack totals. He clearly has the talent level to do it and his pass rush production matches that of an elite sack artist. Williams would boost the Jets defense tremendously if he could sack the quarterback at a much higher level.
At the same time, we cannot use sacks alone to define a player. Sacks make up too small a portion of a player’s time on the field to be the lone tally used to represent their value. Aaron Donald led the league in sacks in 2018 with 20.5, and yet he still only registered a sack on slightly more than 2% of his 914 snaps. Almost 99% of the time, even the league’s best pass rushers aren’t finishing the play with a sack. In Williams’ case, he does a lot of things at a very high level that tend to go unnoticed due to his sack struggles. Even without the sack splurges, he’s a really good player.
So, back to Williams’ sack total. Where will he fall in 2019?
There are a few possible reasons we could attribute to Williams’ scary low rate of turning pressure into sacks.
- Does he command more double teams than most players due to the lack of talent around him?
- Did Todd Bowles’ scheme call for Williams to focus more on gap-plugging than pass rushing?
- Has he suffered from bad luck?
- Is he just simply a poor finisher?
I think any combination of these points may be true. There seems to be a good chance any of them could be reversed in 2019.
Whether or not Leo has actually drawn an unusually high amount of doubles is up for debate, but the selection of Quinnen Williams will undoubtedly take some focus off of Leo. In addition, the famously aggressive Gregg Williams should certainly allow for Leo to see a few more attack-first opportunities per game.
Bad luck could also be at play. Williams’ lack of sacks has to mostly be attributed to his own struggles — we can’t just chalk up a bunch of excuses for him. However, some degree of poor luck has to be involved when there is a 84-spot disparity between Williams’ ranking in hits and sacks. A gap that large is really, really difficult to accrue. Has Williams just been unlucky to see an abnormal amount of throwaways, scrambles, and quick throws cancel out his pass rush victories? He seems due to rise at least a little bit closer to the mean.
As for the fourth reason, perhaps a lack of finishing ability simply is a weakness in Williams’ game that will persist. The glass half full take on this possibility would be to invest in the chance that Williams, who will only be 25 this season, could still develop even further thanks to his young draft age. It’s possible, but it seems more likely Williams might just not be built to become a sack monster.
In 2019, I think Williams will beat both his career average of 4.25 sacks per season and his 2018 total of 5.0 sacks. He’s due for a rise towards the mean and should benefit from the additions of two other guys named Williams — Gregg and Quinnen. I would settle on a number of around 6.0 or 6.5 for Leo, but I could see a peak of around 7.0 or 8.0 if a lot of things break right.
If Leo can maintain an average around the 6.0-6.5 range over the rest of his Jets career, that would be great. It’s nothing to sneeze at — as an example, Fletcher Cox has averaged 6.4 sacks per season over his career. Gerald McCoy has averaged 6.1.
If Leo fails to boost his sack numbers this season, it would be unfortunate and seemingly place a firm cap on his upside, but I don’t think it should cloud his overall value. We have to wait and see how he performs this season, but if he has another year similar to what he has done so far, he will have still put forth a campaign of very good defensive line play for the Jets.
Now, whether or not the Jets should retain Williams, at what will likely be a very expensive price, after another season with only a handful of impact plays? That’s a debate for another day.
The door is as open as ever for Leo to put some splashy numbers in that sack column everybody has their eyes on. He’s got more help, a notoriously aggressive defensive coordinator, and the law of averages on his side.
Any extra sacks above his previous averages that Williams can pick up would do so much towards lifting both himself and the Jets defense to new heights.
How many sacks will Leonard Williams collect in 2019?
This poll is closed
4.5 or fewer
9.0 or more