When DT Leonard Williams was brought over to the New York Giants by general manager Dave Gettleman, I was very critical. Though I thought Williams was a solid player, giving a 3rd rounder and a 5th rounder for a player with .5 sacks on the season seemed illogical. Good thing I do not run the Giants and LW didn’t hear/listen to fans’ complaints.
In 2020, Leonard Williams ATE. Playing all 16 games this year, LW put up 11.5 sacks (7th best in the league), 14 TFL (T-6th), and 30 QB-hits (3rd). The latter two stats tied/topped DT Aaron Donald, who is widely considered the best defender in the league. Both on the stat sheet and off it, there are a few reasons why Williams was able to step up his game this year:
Talent Surrounding Leonard Williams
Before I dive into the ways Leonard Williams improved, I want to mention that he was not the only reason the Giants’ defense improved drastically. In fact, the Giants had many players step up either as rookies, free agents, or veterans already with the team. Regardless, they gave Williams much more help than the Jets ever did.
Watch the few clips from the game vs. the Seahawks in the video above (beginning at 0:23). Watching the first clip, Williams bounces off of a double team to help clean up a sack created by EDGE Jabaal Sheard. In the second, he contains the edge for LB Tae Crowder‘s delayed blitz, sacking Wilson when he tries to escape the pocket. In the third, he successfully pulls off an inside stunt with NT Dalvin Tomlinson.
On the stat sheet, this goes down as 2.5 sacks for Williams and 3 QB Hits, which is well deserved. But these plays definitely directly resulted from the talent surrounding LW baiting Wilson. Their effects on these plays and Leonard Williams’ season as a whole should not be discredited.
Speaking of outside help, much of the credit for Williams’s success can be attributed to HC Joe Judge’s coaching. Williams’ technique improved in many important ways this year. Judge coached him and others from day one on how to tackle properly, execute simple plays, and create turnovers (Watch clips at 0:14, 1:35, 2:45 for examples). Joe Judge said he was going to have his team “punch you in the nose for 60 minutes”. That is exactly what Leonard Williams did.
Patrick Graham’s Scheme
It would be impossible to talk about anything regarding the Giants’ defense without discussing DC Patrick Graham. His work as the defensive play-caller was special, implementing special alignments like 1-4-6, 1-3-7, and 3-2-6, among others. This versatility allowed the Graham to keep opposing quarterbacks off-balance, which not only helped Leonard Williams produce but the Giants as a whole, holding the opponent at or under 20 points in 9/16 games.
To explain exactly how Graham masterfully schemes his defense could be (and maybe will be) an article of its own. But to give an example of this, look at the clip at 7:08 of the following video:
In the final game of the season, the Giants line up 6 at the line of scrimmage in a 2-4-5 set. The Giants used this alignment 21% of their snaps this season, rushing 3-6 players in this personnel throughout the year. In this particular situation, they drop LB Kyler Fackrell into coverage, along with LB Carter Coughlin after he fakes an edge rush. Still, this draws two O-linemen to the right side for Coughlin and Leonard Williams. Thus, LB Blake Martinez gets a lane through the middle around the Center, whose focus is BJ Hill after the pre-snap O-line shift by Dalton. Martinez is followed by S Jabrill Peppers through the middle, who stunted around DT BJ Hill. In any case, Martinez cleanly sacks Dalton.
Graham does not blitz six or ask rookie LB’s to beat experienced OT’s on the edge. Instead, he uses Williams’ threat of dominance, Hill’s size, and Martinez’s and Peppers’ speed to allow his players to get pressure.
Clearly, Patrick Graham’s ability to recognize what every player does best and worst allows players to flourish in his system. That is exactly what Leonard Williams did this year.
The last major reason Leonard Williams broke out this year was his incentive to prove himself. Playing on a franchise tag/one-year deal, Williams needed to show teams that he deserves a large, multi-year deal. Now that he has proven himself, he can demand a contract worth around $20m/yr.
The Giants should not hesitate to lock-up Williams. He may even be willing to give them a team-friendly contract if they make it long and mostly guaranteed. But his value on this team is hard to replace, both as a dominant force and as a veteran leader. If New York lets him into free agency, he could be making plays like the ones above against the Giants, and not for them. That is something that should invoke fear in every Giants fan, player, and member of the organization.
Sign the man.