The Jets surprised many, going defense in the first round with USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams. He’s a beast and will add to their line from day one for new coach Todd Bowles.
Williams was an impact player for USC from his freshman season on. He was the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2012 off of a fabulous debut for the Trojans. Williams totaled 64 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, four passes batted and an interception that season. USC’s defense was led by Monte Kiffin that year, so the freshman gained some experience in an NFL defense.
Williams notched 74 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and five sacks in 2013. Even though his sack numbers were down, he rushed the passer well and saw extra blocking attention.
2014 was the junior’s best season. He recorded 80 tackles, seven sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, three forced fumbles and three passes batted. Williams faced double-teams on a consistent basis and played with an injured ankle. While he wasn’t 100 percent, he gutted it out and found a way to make some big plays to help his team pull off the upset versus Stanford. Williams seemed to be protecting himself and took his foot off the pedal in a blowout of Notre Dame, but he finished the year in impressive fashion against Nebraska.
With his combination of speed and strength, Williams looks like a first-day NFL starter. He is very strong to shed blocks and is fast off the snap. Williams consistently blows by tackles or guards on the pass rush. He is well suited for left defensive end as he gives right tackles a lot of problems. Williams is generally a tough mismatch against all offensive linemen. He is too strong for most left tackles and too fast for right tackles or interior linemen. Off the snap, Williams has a fast burst to fire his gap and achieve penetration into the backfield.
In the ground game, Williams can burst into the backfield to blow up runs and can hold his ground at the point of attack. However, there are areas that Williams can improve. He gets in trouble when he stands up too high, which allows offensive linemen to get under his pads and push him back when they run downhill at him. Williams also had some quiet games where he seemed to disappear in stretches. That could cause teams to question his motor and wonder about him taking plays off. Williams also should refine and add to his pass-rushing moves for NFL offensive linemen. It would be good to see him add a rip move and a club move, as those could be a mismatch with Williams’ strength against lighter left tackles.