New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams was named one of the top 25 players under age 25 by Pro Football Focus. Expect to see him take a big leap this upcoming season.
Pro Football Focus recently released their 2018 list for the top 25 NFL players under the age of 25. Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineman Joey Bosa was ranked as the top player. Bosa has become one of the league’s best edge rushers in just two seasons.
For the New York Jets, they had one player make the list. Defensive lineman Leonard “Big Cat” Williams was ranked 16th on the list. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has recorded 37 combined sacks and hits over the past two seasons. Among interior defenders, only the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams has more.
The 2015 draft pick’s consistent play made the Jets decision in picking up his fifth-year option a no-brainer. The fifth-year option for 2019 is only guaranteed for injury but locking up Williams long-term is a top priority for the Jets.
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Already a great run stopper, Williams wants to improve his skills as a pass rusher according to an article by Brian Costello of the New York Post, here’s what he said about his impact this upcoming season:
“I feel like I’ve been right there,” Williams said. “The years that I don’t have a lot of sacks I still have a lot of quarterback hits. That’s my goal, that’s always been my goal, is to not have it close anymore and to make those hits into sacks. It’s just getting that one step closer. I’ve always been right there. I’m pretty sure it’s close and everyone can see that. There’s no pressure. It’s just working to get better.”
Williams only had two sacks in 2017 but he will work hard to prove the Jets made the right decision in picking up his option. There is a major obstacle that stands in his way, however.
Williams is the only Pro Bowl caliber defensive lineman on the Jets so opponents are able to double team him constantly. Long gone are the days of the Jets having arguably the best defensive line with Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Williams. Cap space and performance have led the Jets to move on from all three except Williams.
Williams doesn’t need to post a monster sacks total to be an elite player in 2018. The Jets would be smart to line up Williams as an edge rusher to utilize his unique speed in the interior of their defensive line. It would also make sense that Williams will work on taking on double teams during the offseason in order to prepare for what a lot of opposing teams will do against him.
If Williams can learn to take on double-teams effectively, he will become an elite defender in both the run and pass. Taking on these double teams will clog up running lanes, push back the pocket, and free up the linebackers to make plays in the backfield. While the Jets try to figure out if they have their future franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, the Big Cat looks to be the face of the defense for many years to come.