With Richardson Out, Williams Gets His Breakout Opportunity

The 3-4 defensive scheme may just work out with Leonard Williams after all, well at least for the first four games of the season. With the suspension of Sheldon Richardson for the first quarter of the season due to a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Williams will have a chance to step right in for the New York Jets and have an immediate impact. All eyes are now on the sixth overall pick.

Many experts regarded Williams as one the main steals of the draft as New York snagged him with their first round pick. He will get his chance to shine possibly earlier than some initially believed. The projected starting three will be the star defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, the underrated Damon Harrison, and the rookie, Williams.

Although losing Richardson is a huge blow, Williams can certainly be a threatening force on that defensive line as soon as the season opener.

Coming into the draft Williams was analyzed as arguably the best prospect overall. Williams has a skill set unprecedented at his defensive end position. He is 6’5 and 302 pounds, but has the athleticism of a power forward. At USC, Williams could barely be blocked and often wreaked havoc on opposing offenses.

Williams was named USC’s MVP for the 2014 season, Defensive Lineman of the Year, and also earned a First Team All-Pac-12 nod. He also comes from a program that has produced big time defensive studs such as Clay Matthews.

You may have heard of him.

With Williams’ size and speed, he was a mismatch for most offensive lineman in college and those attributes certainly translate to the NFL game. He has incredible power and burst coming off the line, and will only improve from here on out.

Williams exceeds at getting after the passer and also stuffing the run. The addition of a workhorse who gets to the quarterback will surely be a plus playing Tom Brady twice a year. NFL Media Columnist Bucky Brooks compared Williams to Richard Seymour.

Not a bad comparison.

Another clear strength for Williams has been his ability to rotate positions. In college he just about played every position on the defensive line at some point. Williams will be able to jump into Richardson’s position with ease, and be able to transition to a different spot on the line after the suspension is over.

Jets’ coaches have also been raving about Williams from early on in minicamp. Todd Bowles has been very impressed by Williams play on and off the field. One key sign Bowles and the coaching staff have seen is Williams’ maturity and knowledge of the defense. He has grasped the scheme well, but training camp will show just how well. Williams has been working extremely hard and has been ready for a starting role since entering the draft.

Back in May, Bowles discussed the rookie and his strides so far, “He’s always on time. He’s always in his playbook. He’s asking more questions than the normal rookies usually ask at this point in time. So from that standpoint, I just say he has age beyond his years.”

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Putting on the pads and playing against the starting offensive line will be the true test on just how ready Williams is. He has some big shoes to fill, but the hype for Leonard Williams seems to be for real.

With a little coaching and help from veteran players like Wilkerson, Richardson, and Harrison, Williams could become an early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The loss of Richardson for four games certainly is a blow to the defensive line, but not one that should change the success of the entire defense.

The Jets have phenomenal talent all over that defense and a coach who is fantastic at adjusting schemes. Williams has the talent to hold down the fort while Richardson is gone, but, of course, time will tell. After the suspension is over though, the ceiling gets much higher on just how stout this defense can become.


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