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Leonard Williams remains the core of the Giants’ pass rush

But can the veteran leader live up to his expensive contract?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard Williams has only been with the New York Giants for two and a half years, but it feels like much longer given all the roster turnover he has seen in that time.

Williams, who started every game last year as the leader of an injury-plagued defense, has yet to be named to the Pro Bowl as a Giant. Is this the season that changes? Let’s look at the year ahead of him as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 302
Age: 28
Position: Defensive tackle
Experience: 7 years
Contract: Year 2 of three-year, $63 million contract | 2022 cap hit: $868,284

Career to date

Former GM Dave Gettleman made a lot of mistakes during his tenure in New York, but his trade for Williams — widely criticized at the time — was not one of them.

Williams, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft, was considered a bust when the Giants acquired him from the New York Jets at the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for third-round and fifth-round picks. The Giants franchise tagged him the following year and he quickly emerged as the focal point of their pass rush with career highs in sacks (11.5) and pressures 42).

Williams’ stats declined somewhat last year while playing with a diminished supporting cast, (6.5 sacks and 22 pressures), but he remained one of the team’s most important players. He also played the last four games of the season with a significant triceps injury, even after the Giants were eliminated from playoff contention.

While Williams has not quite reached the league’s upper echelon of pass rushers, he is generally considered the best player on the Giants’ defense. A panel of league executives named him an honorable mention in ESPN’s list of the top 10 defensive tackles, with one noting that “many evaluators agree he’d be in the top five based on talent.”

2022 outlook

Depending on how quickly Kayvon Thibodeaux adapts to the NFL, this could be the best group of pass rushers Williams has played with on the Giants so far. Azeez Ojulari is looking to improve on his eight-sack rookie season. Justin Ellis’ presence means Williams isn’t the group’s only veteran leader. That should only help Williams’ bottom line; he was more effective statistically back when the Giants had players like Dalvin Tomlinson in the middle of the line (though Williams’ stat dip last year wasn’t necessary from a decline in ability).

However, Williams also needs to play up to his hefty contract to stick around. Despite his high level of production, it’s up for debate whether Williams has lived up to his contract — a contract that Joe Schoen did not give him. New York would free up about $18 million in cap space and incur $8 million in dead money by releasing Williams after this season.