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Leonard Williams film study: How he played in 2019 and what to expect in 2020

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Let’s break down what Williams does, and doesn’t. do

Miami Dolphins v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A name that has caused some provocation amongst New York Giants’ fans is Leonard Williams, a former sixth overall pick by the crosstown New York Jets. The rousing nature that surrounds the player’s name isn’t unwarranted, but it’s not necessarily due to the merit of gameplay that Williams exudes on Sundays.

In a dismal 2-6 season, the Giants traded two draft assets, one being a third-round selection, to the Jets for Williams, who was an impending free agent. The transaction was particularly peculiar because of Williams’ contractual status and the Giants’ current roster. The Giants had spent a first-round pick on Dexter Lawerence in 2019, a third-round pick on B.J. Hill in 2018, and a second-round pick on Dalvin Tomlinson in Jerry Reese’s last year as general manager (2017).

The subsequent contract struggles between Williams and the Giants have rendered the essence of the trade to be purblind, especially with the opportunity cost of the 68th overall selection being awarded to the Jets (a pick spent on Cal safety Ashtyn Davis). Williams, who initially refused to sign his franchise tag, capitulated and signed the tender as a defensive tackle, which should net him $16.1 million this season, instead of $17.8 million, which would have been his earnings if he was designated as a defensive end.

As much as the contract situation is not a trivial matter, one thing is certainly lost when Williams is discussed, and that is the effective nature of his play. His stats do not represent how solid he is as a football player. The two things that he does well are defending the run and creating interior pressure (from multiple alignments), he just needs to finish. Williams is versatile, fundamentally sound, long, athletic, flexible, and he does a good job sinking his weight/frame and holding up at the point of attack. Outside of the Dallas game (his first as a Giant), he played the run with a potent tenacity that really helped the defense.

(Williams is No. 99)

Above, Williams is the play side 3-technique handling a double team, with two pullers coming from the backside to open the 5 hole (don’t think hockey!). Williams senses the double team and sinks his weight while getting low to maintain good positioning against the offensive lineman. As the play materializes, Williams defeats the double team sheds the guard and spins off the tackle right into the 5 hole for a minimal offensive gain.

Next, textbook use of length, stack/shed ability, and constriction of gaps are on display here against his former team. Williams typically executes sound technique, and he does so as a 3-technique here; he fires his hands quickly into the guard’s chest, controlling him at the point of attack, then he uses his length to create space and maximize his own sight into the backfield. Once he sees the running back’s path, he sheds, swims inside, and constricts the A-Gap.

Williams’ quick first step can really stress offensive linemen, and we see it here as a 3-technique against Chicago. James Daniels (68), a young, yet talented, guard, is taken to task by Williams, who creates a tackle for a loss. Williams opens up inside and is the higher man at the point of contact, yet he’s still able to absorb Daniels’ contact and still re-sink/re-center himself into the correct position to mitigate the running back’s success. Typically the lower man wins, but Williams’ quickness, strength, and half-man relationship beat Daniels and the Bears’ offense as a whole.

Williams’ ability to stop the run isn’t limited to the 3-technique position. Above, we see him shift to a 1-technique and eat the double team chip from the guard, while quickly establishing inside hand placement on the center, then using leverage and strength to gain position and toss the center outside to flow towards the ball carrier. Williams isn’t the main contributor on the tackle, but his upfield push forces the ball carrier to cut-back to a disadvantageous position.

Here, one of the best centers in the game, Jason Kelce, gets tossed to the deck by Williams. If you watch slowly, Williams gets his hands inside quickly, controls the chest, gets hit by the guard, but re-centers his strength to just shed Kelce and flow to the football. This is an excellent play against a talented offensive center.

He’s a 5-technique, slightly outside the tackle’s shoulder, on the play above, but he does the same thing that he did as the 1-technique against Kelce: quick hands, inside control, re-adjustment, find ball, attack. Julie’n Davenport’s (70) shoulders just get pushed up and away from where Williams wants to go, demonstrating the true pop in his hands. Another thing that is evident in most of these plays is the mental processing and vision of Williams to locate ball carriers while attacking their path aggressively.

Giants come out in a Tite Front. Williams puts Elgton Jenkins (74) into a tough spot by lining up as a 4i-technique against this wide split zone play. Jenkins is tasked to reach block Williams, but the defenders’ ability to get off the snap quickly and locate the center of Jenkins while pressing the outside shoulder forces the ball carrier to run into the up-field pressure of Williams. An easy tackle for a loss, thanks in part to the quickness and technique of Leonard Williams.

Pass rushing

The problem with Leonard Williams has not been his ability to stop the run, it hasn’t even been his ability to generate pressure. It’s been his inability to finish when he gets the pressure.

Quickness, strength, leverage, and length are some of the most pertinent aspects of rushing the passer. As a wide rusher, Williams is able to apply pressure on Mitchell Trubisky (10) by dominating the tackle at the point of attack, using the criteria I previously listed. Williams gets out of his stance fast, wins inside with quick hands, generates lower body drive to bully the tackle backward, uses his length to create separation, and then attacks his up-field shoulder to establish the half-man relationship. This is a third-and-5 play from a versatile player who defeated Charles Leno Jr. on the edge of the line of scrimmage.

Another third down above, this one a third-and-13 with Williams lined up as a 3-technique opposite of Connor Williams (53). Leonard Williams displays excellent athletic ability and flexibility to bend through contact and hold off the push of C.Williams. Leonard Williams does a great job knocking the hands of the young guard down while dipping his inside shoulder and establishing the half-man. L.Williams shows a ton of strength, bend, and burst to locate Dak Prescott (4) in the pocket and force the incompletion.

Here, we see a third-and-7 and Williams is used on an End/Linebacker stunt where Williams slants inside and two linebackers replace him as loopers. Williams drives right into the center, pushing him back into the back-side guard while using his strength and leverage to separate and hit Sam Darnold (14) as he throws the football. Williams failed to record a sack here, but he significantly altered the play on third down. I wish that was the case more often for him, but sadly it’s not always the instance.

Williams is being defined as “too little, too late,” and while there’s a ton of merit in pressuring the quarterback, the inability to actually finish the job and record the sack tends to linger over the head of players. Plays like the one above where Williams beats Jenkins off the snap with quickness, but the reactionary quickness and skill-set of the guard are enough to wash Williams away from Rodgers. But Williams isn’t done after the initial counter from Jenkins; Williams hits Jenkins with an outside arm hump-move by dropping his weight, sinking his hips, re-engaging his core, and utilizing his strength to move Jenkins one way, while simultaneously going the other. Williams does just that and then bends around the holding attempt of Jenkins, but sadly...it was too little, too late.

A similar thing happens here against Washington, only instead of a huge gain, it’s a touchdown. Donald Penn (72) gets abused by Williams in the red-zone when the latter hit the former with an inside arm to create separation and then grabs cloth to pull Penn’s inside shoulder downward, which gives Williams the opportunity to win outside. Williams then finishes the pass-rushing move with a strong outside arm club of Penn’s outside arm, which creates the necessary separation for Williams, but against too little, too late. Dwayne Haskins (7) gets punished but is rewarded with a touchdown pass. Despite this yielding a negative return for the Giants, Williams still displayed a quick get off, manipulation of a seasoned offensive tackle, separation, and multiple pass rushing moves to nail Haskins.

Final thoughts

There are a lot of strengths that Leonard Williams provides the New York Giants defense. He is a plus run defender and he creates interior pressure. Since joining the Giants in Week 9, Williams tied for eighth in pressures from then till the end of the season, and that’s with a BYE week. Some of the “too little, too late” can rectify itself. Let’s not forget that Williams has had 8- and 6-sack seasons, despite only being 26 years of age.

There’s reason to believe that Williams can benefit from Patrick Graham’s defense. Graham is going to use a lot of fluid looks, especially in third down situations. While with Miami, Graham would utilize one or two down lineman, with roving second-level defenders that were tasked to provide pressure by slanting/stunting, and creating picks to open up opportunities for other defenders. Graham didn’t have anyone near the caliber of Leonard Williams in terms of athletic ability, quickness, and size. Expect Williams versatility to be utilized by Graham, and if the secondary is improved, like we hope, then that may give Williams that sliver of extra time he needs to not be late.

Williams shows very good athletic ability for someone of his size, excellent diagnosing ability, good technique, length, and strength at the point of attack. Williams pass rushing repertoire is vast for a defensive lineman, and he utilizes good reactionary quickness to counter against opponents; it’s one of the reasons why I feel more sacks are coming (can’t be much less than .5). He has the tools in his arsenal. I value the pressures that Williams provides on the quarterback, but if you want to make the big bucks, you have to finish and create sacks.

If Williams is requesting the money that has been rumored, then he has to finish, and not just come close. Pressures are excellent, but sacks are a big determining factor in terms of earning a contract. People tend to have a negative outlook on Williams, due to the trade and the contract negotiations; I get that, but his contributions to the Giants are still incredibly valuable; he’ll be a great asset for Patrick Graham moving forward, but it has to be at the right price long term.