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A Look Back at Leonard Williams

#5 in a series

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

A Look Back at Leonard Williams

Leonard Williams has been part of the Jets future since he was drafted back in 2015. Entering his 5th year with the team it seems like he has been with the Jets forever, but Williams just turned 25 years old last month. Everything you have seen of him thus far is but a precursor of his impending dominant career. He came to the Jets as a man-child but has now grown into a veteran defensive presence that could dominate this year in Gregg Williams defense.

Leonard Williams now incorporates into his workout routine a lot of yoga, meditation and MMA training to be at peak physical capabilities. He still runs and lifts weights for endurance and strength, but Curtis Martin told him that if he were still playing he would use MMA training to help against the rigors of an NFL season. Leonard also has Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott to talk with and bounce ideas off of at his home in California.

With the 3rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft the Jets selected the #1 draft prospect on many draft boards DT Quinnen Williams, an inside disruptive force who should help keep Leonard from getting double teamed like he has in the past. Leonard posted his best sack numbers (7 in 2016) when both Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson were on the roster taking up blocks. Leonard is smarter, stronger, and in better shape than that period of his career plus Quinnen Williams is a better talent than either of those two players.

It appears to a casual observer that Leonard has not lived up to his status as the overall #6 pick in 2015 when many considered him the top prospect in the Draft. You have to remember that the NFL is full of the best football players in the world, veteran men who have excelled at football for years. When Leonard was drafted he was only 20 years old. He still put up decent numbers as a rookie and the following year he went to the Pro Bowl. Besides all players are drafted for their potential, few if any players enter the NFL ready to dominate, especially at 20 years old. Leonard is just becoming the player he will be. The younger version wasn’t that bad either. He ranked 6th in total pressures last year for interior linemen. He was graded as the the #30 defensive tackle by Pro Football Focus in 2018.

Leonard is an interior defensive lineman, and when he did play as a DE he was a 5-tech, not a rush end or an OLB. His job first was to hold the edge then rush the QB when it was determined to be a passing play. As a interior defensive lineman to have 17 sacks in 4 years is not a bad thing. Add to that 220 tackles, 32 TFL with 85 QB hits. It is quite a great stat line for a player on a three man line playing primarily inside.

Grady Jarrett who was drafted the same year as Leonard. He is considered one of the best 3-techs in football today. He has a stat line of 14 sacks, 179 tackles, 31 TFL and 40 QB hits. Jarrett played the vast majority of his career on a 4 man line with players like Vic Beasley (16 sacks in 2016) playing outside him.

Aaron Donald has played a 3-tech his entire career. He never had to play as a 5-tech. His stat line for his first 4 years in the league of 39 sacks, 204 tackles, 72 TFL and 108 QB hits. Donald has been a Pro Bowl player every year, an All Pro 4 of 5 years in the league, and is considered all world.

Donald is an incredible player, but he always played on a 4 man line. Plus he always had great edge pressure from players like Connor Barwin, Robert Quinn and Dante Fowler. Additionally he had Michael Brockers, Ethan Westbrooks and William Hayes as alternate tackles.

Donald and Leonard are two completely different players. Donald is more quickness, speed and technique while Leonard is much bigger with power and long arms to pitchfork his way around offensive linemen. Donald is the superior player any way you look at it. They should be getting his bust ready in Canton right now, but Leonard is no slouch and much of the disfavor he gets is unwarranted.

Considering the fact that Leonard had to play as a 5-tech in 2015 and some in 2018 so his numbers are outstanding. Donald had his best year as a pro in his 5th year with Ndamukong Suh, Will Leonard do the same with Quinnen by his side? We shall see.

Let’s see Leonard in action.

In this the Jets effectively use a line stunt to attack the Bengals offensive line. You can see Leonard push his man back as Muhammad Wilkerson cuts in front of him from his end position. Leonard is able to loop around free.

As Leonard comes free Andy Dalton tries to escape by moving up in the pocket. Cedric Ogbuehi tries to give Dalton more time with a half-hearted block on Leonard but is quickly brushed aside. Dalton is then sandwiched between Leonard and Wilkerson as he almost makes it back to the line of scrimmage.

From the end zone view you can see the entire play unfold.

The Jets use a 4 man line in this play and just steamroll the pocket. Actually the play was made by David Harris on the outside. The Bengals try a little two receiver rub play at the top of the screen, and Andy Dalton must have thought Jeremy Hill was going to beat David Harris easily to get open. He didn’t. By the time Hill pries himself free Dalton is running for his life. You can see Dalton (before he runs) ready to throw, but Hill is not open.

This next clip is of another line stunt used on our our roommates the Giants. The Jets on this play brought in Leger Douzable as an end to make a 4 man line to further increase pressure. The play is just a simple line stunt where Wilkerson cuts in behind Leonard to effectively trade rush lanes.

This does get Leonard one on one with Bobby Hart who is a weak offensive line talent. Watch as Hart doesn’t keep Leonard away for his body with his hands. Once Leonard makes contact with Hart’s chest he pushes him back then uses a under and up rip move to go around his outside. Eli steps up in the pocket, but there is nowhere to go, Leonard takes him down from behind.

This next clip is of the same line stunt, and again it gets Leonard going against a poor offensive lineman in Cedric Ogbuehi. The entire Bengals line gets run over on the play, but Ogbuehi gives little resistance as Leonard just pushes him back into his QB’s lap easily.

You can see the power in Leonard’s game as his first contact with Ogbuehi pushes him back a good 4 yards and gives an opening to the inside that is a direct line to Dalton. At ground level you can see the carnage better.

This is a first and goal from the 7 yard line so the sack back to the 20 is a huge play for the defense. As Leonard makes a direct line to Ogbuehi, Wilkerson goes inside. The entire line is pushed back with even All Pro Andrew Whitworth landing on his backside. Dalton is a fairly mobile QB but has nowhere to run as the Jets swarm in led by Leonard.

In his rookie season the Jets used a 3-4 defense primarily but had Calvin Pace as a rush LB who was a seasoned veteran and knew how to get pressure from the edge with power. In this clip from that rookie season Leonard uses pure power to overwhelm Matt Tobin who started 13 games for the Eagles that year.

This is a 21 year old kid putting a 6’ 6” 320 man to his knees then assaulting his QB. Leonard effectiveness was much better when he had Richardson and Wilkerson on either side of him. In the two years with the other “sons” he had 10 sacks as compared to 7 sacks in the two years without them. More importantly Leonard had 131 tackle and TFL 18 with the “sons” and only 89 and 14 without them. Interestingly his QB hits were higher without the “sons” 45 than with them 40.

This makes the addition of Quinnen Williams that much more important to the success of Leonard and Quinnen. As a pair inside they cannot be both double teamed. It should also allow the edge rushers single blocks with little help from interior offensive linemen.

Here back in 2016 with the “sons” Leonard tosses Taylor Lewan aside on a powerful pass rush but is met by RB David Cobb. Cobb becomes little more than a speed bump along the road as Marcus Mariota is engulfed on a steam rolling pass rush.

Leonard is a technician when it comes to playing defensive tackle, and he thinks about every move beforehand in his head. My belief is if Leonard wants to get better as a player he needs to work on staying lower coming off the ball to gain some leverage advantages to go along with his considerable power.

Another area where Leonard could really gain an advantage is his temperament. Leonard is such a gentleman and all around nice guy off the field it is hard for him to change into the antithesis of himself. In the scouting world we say a player needs to “eat glass” to develop disdain for his opponent and play with reckless abandon.

Some of the greatest defensive players in NFL history had the “hate” factor for their opponents. It showed on the field and there were players actually scared to play against them. Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Lawrence Taylor, Deacon Jones, Dick Butkus, Chuck Bednarik, Ray Nitschke, Mike Singletary, Ronnie Lott all had fear as a weapon going for them. Players like Reggie White, Merlin Olsen, Alan Page and Bob Lilly were so talented they really didn’t need the “hate” factor. Leonard does, he is not as talented as them.

In this last play the Jets are down by a point with the Bengals inside the 30 yard line so a sack would be huge for the defense. So the Jets come with a middle LB blitz which is seen ahead of time by the Bengals. They have the exact line call for the play. You can see the right guard pull around, meet David Harris head on, and actually push him back.

Leonard is playing in the A gap off the right shoulder of the center. When the right guard pulls, the center moves slightly to his right to pick up Leonard so he will not shoot the gap and gain an advantage on him. Instead of shooting the gap, Leonard moves to his right towards the center which allows his free access to the A gap on the opposite side of the center. By doing so, the center whiffs on the block and Andy Dalton is a dead duck.

From another angle you can see the entire play unfold. As the Jets blitz the guard pulls. The entire secondary is in press man coverage, not allowing a quick throw.

This is a 3 receiver route ,and no one is open for Dalton to throw to. Leonard takes less than 2.5 seconds to contact Dalton so there was no time to make a play. This put the Bengals in a 3rd and 13 hole in poor field goal position. The next play went incomplete then Mike Nugent missed a 52 yard field goal.

Looking Forward

It is going to be interesting to see how Joe Douglas views Leonard Williams and if he believes in him enough to re-sign him. You basically have the Williams brothers (Leonard and Quinnen) as the talent on the defensive line with Henry Anderson and Jachai Polite on the outside. Steve McLendon is an aging vet who provides more veteran leadership with solid if undynamic play than upside. McLendon’s contract is almost fully guaranteed. He is a good goal line and rotational player for this year, but I don’t see him as part of the Jets’ future unless he plays for the veteran minimum going forward and none of the young guys takes the next in their development.

There will not not a lot of other playmakers on the defensive line unless one of the young guys steps up and becomes a factor. As Quinnen Williams is vital to the continued success of Leonard Williams, the inverse is true as well. In the years ahead how much damage to the development of Quinnen Williams would be caused by letting Leonard Williams walk? Do you gamble with your #3 overall pick by not giving him someone to learn from and someone who is also a threat the offense has to worry about?

The bottom line is I don’t think the Jets can’t afford to let Leonard Williams walk after this year so the best course of action is to try and resign him long term now. A franchise tag in 2020 would only add less than $2 million to his salary he has this year so that is an option also. I am sure that Joe Douglas and his braintrust are mulling over roster possibilities as we speak.

I think Leonard Williams has been a little underappreciated by some but has been a solid player up to this point in his career. His best 5 years lay just ahead so I would love the Jets to reap the benefits for his talent for all those years. A 6 year $85 million contract with a $15 million signing bonus and 40% guaranteed should get it done. That would take Leonard into his age 31 year season, and the Jets would have him for probably his most productive years. Leonard is still an ascending player, and with the addition of Quinnen they could be a force on the interior line for the next 5 years at least.

What do you think?