New York Giants defensive tackle Leonard Williams was drafted out of USC by the New York Jets with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Despite being in the NFL since 2015, Williams has never been a part of a playoff team.
At least until the 2022 Giants.
For the first time since becoming a professional football player, Williams is heading to the post-season.
“It feels amazing,” Williams said on Wednesday, after the team secured their playoff berth. “I mean, that feeling after the game was just unbeatable. Just seeing all the smiles on my teammates, just knowing how long it’s been since I’ve had an opportunity to do this. It means a lot to me.”
The Jets were 10-6 in Williams’ rookie year and went into Week 17 10-5 against the Buffalo Bills with a chance to secure a playoff berth. They lost that win-and-in game and missed the playoffs.
“The last time I had an opportunity was my rookie year and we lost to Buffalo the last game of the season,” he said. “I actually talked to some of my d-line room before that game and I was like, ‘After that game, being a rookie and going that far rookie year – I was thinking if we came this far, why not again next year?’ The fact that it took seven years to get back there is crazy. I was trying to let everyone know the meaning of these opportunities don’t come often and that we should take advantage of it. We did. We went out there and played one of our best games as a team and we played really good team football. It paid off.”
This year, 2022, isn’t just the first time Williams has made the post-season, but also the first time since entering the NFL that he’s missed a game. Lately, Williams has been dealing with a neck injury. When asked whether he’d rather play this week against the Philadelphia Eagles or take the week to rest, he was noncommittal. Williams was clear that he’d do whatever the team needed.
“I’m really willing to do whatever is best for the team at this point, which I’ve been doing all year,” he said. “Whatever is going to get our team to the best position to – at the end of the day our goal, every team’s goal in the beginning of the season, is to get a championship. That’s our goal at the end of the day. Whatever is going to be the best for us to get to that point, I’m going to do it.”
Williams credits defensive line coach Andre Patterson with elevating his game and teaching him to use his natural tools.
(Patterson, coincidentally, brought former-Giant and current Eagle Linval Joseph’s game to the next level when Joseph was a Minnesota Viking.)
“I think a big thing [that Patterson taught him] is playing with length,” Williams said. “He [Patterson] always talks about how big and strong me and Dex both are and how if we get our hands on people and play with extension – we both have really long arms – that’s a problem for offensive linemen. If you get extension on them, it’s hard for them to get their hands on you. You just are in a more controlled, power-dominant position.”
Williams was careful to mention Dexter Lawrence, who has emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. And whether Williams plays in the season finale or not, the Giants have established themselves as having one of the best defensive tackle duos in the NFL.
Lawerence has had an exceptional 2022 season and is reckoned with the likes of Aaron Donald and Chris Jones as not only a run defender, but an interior pass rusher. The duo of Williams and Lawrence have been the undisputed strength of the Giants defense, and Williams credits believes they make each other better.
He said, “If we see something that one of us can get better from or if something is holding us back or something like that, if he comes to me and says, ‘Hey Leo, I feel like this is holding you back,’ I’m not going to be offended because I know that its coming from a good place because we’re not only good teammates – I feel like we’re pretty good friends. Also, we’ve been playing with each other for three, four years now so we know how to play off of each other and have a feel for where each other is on the field and stuff like that.
“To me, I’m just happy and excited to see that now the world is giving him the same recognition that his peers and coaches have been seeing from him. He’s definitely put on a show this year. It’s been impressive to watch. He’s just a freakish athlete for his size. I think that’s really hard to match up.”