The rookie class of 2015 has had a mixed start to their NFL carer with surprises both positive and negative. When you ask about the most impactful rookies so far, responses on social media almost entirely focus on offensive players; Marcus Mariota, TJ Yeldon or Todd Gurley. But what of the man who many tipped as the best player in the entire draft, our very own Leonard Williams? What has been his impact in his first weeks of his Jets’ life?
It is fair to say that Williams had a slightly nervy start against Cleveland in week one, being thrown into a depth of responsibility he likely hadn’t expected so early on, due to the suspension of Sheldon Richardson. By his own admission this first foray into the NFL was not his finest work. He pointed to his conditioning and the difference in responsibility for this area between college and the pros as a possible explanation for why he only managed three quarterback pressures and appeared a little slow to some tackles. A lesson learned early: “Its kind of like up to myself now to take care of that (conditioning) on my own, like after practice.” he told the media.
Over the subsequent weeks Williams has built improvement upon improvement, helped by the mentoring of Coach Bowles and D-Line coach Pepper Johnson. In week 2 against the Colts he was instrumental, alongside Mo Wilkerson in causing a great deal of discomfort for Andrew Luck in the pocket. The Eagles game saw Williams’ first career half sack, combining with Wilkerson to take down Sam Bradford. He picked up six tackles, including one for loss.
However, it was against Miami we really began to see Williams find his feet and begin to show his true colours as he pressured Ryan Tannehill throughout the game. His performance landed him 5th on Pro Football Focus’ list of 3-4 pass rushing defensive ends after week 4. Purely from a viewers’ standpoint he also looked more confident, dominant and more imposing as his 6ft 5, 302lb suggests. This is due to a combination of factors; increased experience, his ability to reflect and improve on areas of his game and possibly most telling, a conversation he had with Todd Bowles regarding his ‘overthinking’. Bowles was clearly impressed with Williams’ response to the advice he was given, saying after the game in London:
“The talk we had, he was thinking too much. You get to a point as a rookie where you start thinking too much and absorbing too much. I just told him to stop thinking and just go ahead and play and be himself and we’ll around everything else and he did a good job of that last Sunday.”
Pepper Johnson has this week remained measured about the success of the D-Lline in it’s entirety and refused to shower praise on any individuals. Of Williams he said:
“I saw a guy young at times. I saw a guy with a lot of energy trying to play had, trying to do all the right things. It’s up and down. I would say September was on the upside for him. I expect a lot more and he expected a lot more from himself”
This seems an accurate analysis. Hopefully, following the bye, this forward trajectory and ‘upside’ will continue and the elusive first full sack will come.
Although you can’t quibble with drafting the best player available when he falls unexpectedly into your clutches, some were a little concerned as to how the presence of another big guy up front would work alongside the already terrifying combination of Wilkerson, Richardson and Harrison. Of course, circumstances deferred that conversation to this week and therefore with the return of Sheldon a new dimension is added. Todd Bowes however sees no cause for concern, quite the opposite in fact, especially with Richardson not necessarily game ready, stating:
“Leonard’s going to play. We’ve got some good defensive linemen. They’re all going to play. I don’t envision a role for them, I can play all of them. I can play one, I can play two or three of them. We’ve got a lot of depth at his position.”
Judging by what we’ve seen so far, this depth is going to be crucial to ensuring the Jets maintain their winning record throughout the year and Williams has, in his first few weeks, made himself a key cog in this machine; something which should be expected from a player of such high draft value. Of course, he still has a long way to go in terms of refining his game. But it addition to this, after meeting him briefly in London and watching him interact with the team and school kids at a play 60 event, he also seems like a genuinely good guy. For someone who is so scary on the d-line, he smiles constantly and approaches everything with boundless energy, positivity and enthusiasm; attributes which should only serve to boost himself and those around him.