Leonard Williams is seen by many scouts as the biggest can’t miss prospect of the 2015 NFL Draft. The former USC Trojans was regularly projected as high as the number two overall pick, before a late surging Marcus Mariota, and the NFL being such a quarterback driven league, saw Williams slide down the draft. As soon as Williams fell out of the top three it became obvious that whichever team selected him was going to get outstanding value and when the New York Jets pulled the trigger on Williams with the number six overall pick they got one of the steals for the first round.
At 6’5” and 302 pounds, Leonard Williams is a monster of a man. A four-star recruit coming out of high school according to Rivals, he was ranked as the fifth best strong side defensive end recruit in his class. At USC however he continued to gain muscle and was converted to defensive tackle for his freshman season. Playing without a redshirt year, Williams recorded 64 tackles, eight sacks and an interception, astonishing stats for a first year player.
The Trojans alternated Williams from tackle to end for his sophomore and junior seasons, looking for favorable matchups which allowed a player who was too strong and too athletic to take over games on defense. His tackle numbers continued to rise, with 74 as a sophomore and 80 as a junior, while adding 13 more sacks to his career total over the two seasons. At the end of his junior season last fall, Williams was named a first team All-American and he decided to skip his senior season and declare for the draft.
Graphic via bluegoldonline
Williams was already pegged to be working with the first team during training camp, but the news that Jets starting defensive end Sheldon Richardson has been suspended for the first four games of the season will only push the team to fast track his development. One of the benefits of drafting a USC Trojan is that the player comes into the team with a professional mentality. This has been obvious with Williams, who has been assertive, but not brash, from the day he stepped into the Redskins facility.
Taking a defensive lineman so high in the draft when the unit was already considered to be one of the league’s best may make the selection of Williams look like a luxury pick in some circles. Williams though brings a skill set which differs from the rest of the players on the unit and his versatility and experience playing both inside and outside on the defensive line will allow him to be a three down player from the opening day onward.
The biggest difference between the college game and the NFL is the speed of the players on the field. At USC Williams could still get to the quarterback despite his 4.97 forty-yard dash time, which is slow by NFL standards. In order to get consistent pressure on the quarterback Williams is going to have to develop his pass rush moves and learn to hone his technique as opposed to relying on the raw speed and athleticism which has got him to this point.
If Williams puts it all together the sky’s the limit and the five teams who picked before the Jets will be left scratching their heads at to just how they passed the freakishly talented defensive linemen over on draft day.
Graphic via cbssports