It’s no secret that New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations that have been set for him, but does that mean that they should look to part ways following the 2018 season?
When the New York Jets drafted Leonard Williams out of USC with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the organization was expecting him to make an immediate impact on the defensive line and in a way, he did, as he performed relatively well throughout his first two seasons.
Starting all 16 games of his rookie season, Williams totaled 63 tackles with seven tackles for loss and three sacks to go along with 21 quarterback hits per Pro Football Reference. Then in 2016, he ramped up his production a bit, totaling 68 tackles with 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, 19 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles.
His performance throughout the 2016 season earned him a Pro Bowl selection and it’s undoubtedly been his best season thus far, but he hasn’t performed quite as well in the two seasons since.
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In analyzing Williams’ performance throughout 2017 and 2018 thus far, it’s clear that his production has dropped. In 2017, for example, he totaled 47 tackles with three tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hits but only two sacks. Through 13 games in 2018, his production hasn’t necessarily improved, as he’s totaled just 31 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and three sacks.
This season specifically, Williams has been quite underwhelming and just last week, he was the target of a bit of criticism from fans after a missed tackle and a questionable play that led some to question his hustle and work ethic.
While Williams, at times, serves as a serviceable run stuffer, he certainly hasn’t transformed into the pass rusher that the Jets were expecting and hoping him to do.
According to Spotrac, Williams has one year left on his contract before he hits free agency. Unless the organization doesn’t at all see a way he could be part of future plans and a key draft pick can be acquired for him, I don’t see much of a reason for the Jets to part ways with Williams following this season.
First off, he remains incredibly young and has shown that in the right environment, he can excel. In 2016, for example, Williams produced his best season alongside Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Both Wilkerson and Richardson performed relatively well that year as well and they undoubtedly took a bit of pressure off of Williams, which allowed him to perform well also.
Since then, Williams hasn’t been surrounded by nearly as much talent which has often lead to him being double teamed, as opposing teams don’t have to worry about much else in terms of the Jets pass rush. And sure, elite defensive linemen can find their ways around double teams, but one would have to assume that Williams would perform at a higher level if the Jets surrounded him with better talent.
And that certainly could be the case heading into next season, as the Jets will have plenty of money to spend this offseason in addition to what’s expected to be a top draft pick. Acquiring a high-level pass rusher will certainly be at the top of the list for the Jets. In addition, it’s expected that the Jets will be in the market for a new head coach, which could very well lead to a complete overhaul of the coaching staff.
Ultimately, much is expected to change regarding the Jets next year and given that he’s still young and has one more year left on his contract, it may make sense to keep Williams around in order to see if he can truly become what the Jets had once hoped for. If however, he once again fails to live up to expectations, the Jets will have to move on.