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Leonard Williams: The Good, the Great and the Ugly

Leonard Williams finally delivered the big year the Giants believed him capable of having.Can he keep it going?

The Giants signed Leonard Williams to a three-year contract worth $63 million with $45 million guaranteed. Big Blue allocated this reward to Williams after his 11.5-sack season on a team with many injuries at the EDGE position. Williams was the lead rusher in Patrick Graham’s system, and he was aligned all over the defensive line.

The talented 27-year-old had 62 pressures and aligned in three separate positions over 100 times in 2020. He's 6’5" and 302 pounds, with a frame that, combined with his long arms and ability to generate power from his lower half, makes him a rare asset for a talented defensive coordinator.

His ability to push the pocket with strength and superior hand usage on the interior is combined with quality bend to win around a half-man relationship--this is not a common trait in the NFL.

Williams initiated a lot of pressure in 2019 when the Giants acquired him from their cross-town rivals. In just eight weeks, he had 31 pressures and a half-sack.

Finishing was the struggle for Williams, but he was often close to many sacks. He put it all together in 2020, and it helped him earn a contract with the Giants. Let’s go through some Williams highlights in this edition of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly.

(Leonard Williams is No. 99.)

The Good: Run Defense Through Trash

Leonard Williams is an aware football player who moves so well laterally while engaged in blocks. His spatial awareness, combined with his ability to stay low, use his length, and disengage with pop in his hands are excellent assets to utilize along the defensive line.

This play appears to be a split-stretch zone with an end-around fake to hold second-level defenders as a decoy. Williams is in a two-point stance; he takes on the contact from the tackle. He positioned himself on the outside shoulder of the offensive lineman while reading through to the football.

He then uses both hands in conjunction with each other; he takes the inside arm and benches the tackle off his frame while almost simultaneously using his outside arm to disengage the tackle’s grip.

In doing so, he anchors down, sets the edge, and allows the momentum of the tackle to slip inside while effectively boxing the running back into his pursuit defenders. This is good technique and excellent reaction from Williams.

The Browns attempt to use a tight end, Austin Hooper (81), to pin Williams on this pin-pull concept which doesn’t end well for the Browns.

Williams quickly gets his outside arm and hand underneath the outside shoulder pad and presses it upfield to displace Hooper. Williams then flows laterally, brings his inside arm over the top of the tight end, and separates while positioning himself directly in the running back’s path.

He finishes the play by wrapping Nick Chubb (No. 24) up for a loss.

This is discipline right here from Williams. He’s the cut-back defender who is on the field, open (no tight end), side of the formation on a boundary stretch-zone run. Williams feels the tackle out with his outside arm, keeping him at bay while watching the path of the running back.

Once Chubb thinks he has a cut-back lane between Williams and the contain defender Jabaal Sheard (91), he attempts to burst through a hole that quickly closes up due to Williams’ ability to react, combined with his unique movement skills for his size.

This is a very good play from the back-side three-technique in this tite front.

Here we see Williams on the left side of the screen as a 5-technique; upon the snap, he checks the motion out briefly before reacting to the run on the opposite side of the formation.

Once he knows where the ball is, he assists the tight end Jeremy Sprinkle (87) away from his frame and makes a tackle down the line of scrimmage.

Williams fights through the DEUCE block on this play. As the guard climbs to the second level, Williams gets both hands inside the tackle and fully extends to create the desired separation while driving with his feet.

He then brings the inside arm over the top to swim upon disengagement while using his outside arm as a point of contact on the tackle. He then collapses through the outside shoulder of the tackle and closes the path for the ball carrier.

Williams adjusts himself so well while moving through trash and when he’s engaged at the point of attack. He just uses his measurables to his advantage, and his processing helps put him into excellent positions to make plays on the football.

The Great: Pass Rushing

I mentioned earlier Williams’ ability to generate power through his lower half and how he can do this to bull-rush. 

Well, here’s an example. Williams is a bit wide of a 5-technique, but he explodes off the ball quickly and converts that speed to power real quick by getting that inside hand inside to stun.

Williams then pushes the tackle backward and gets him on skates while never giving the tackle a second to establish grip due to the constant adjusting and battling of Williams's hands, combined with his great length.


Dante Pettis and quarterback Daniel Jones of the Giants celebrate a TD in the second half as the Carolina Panthers faced the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on October 24, 2021.

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He drives the tackle right into the pocket and forces Andy Dalton (No. 14) to step up, which is when he is able to disengage and wrap the signal-caller up for a sack.

This is just another display of crazy strength and will; splitting this double team like he’s about to say “HERE’S JOHNNY!” probably wasn’t easy for Williams, but he’s able to do it. The guard oversets, and the center is a bit too slow to adjust to Williams's speed once he saw that his teammate was in trouble.

Williams is able to use his outside arm to get underneath the guard’s inside arm while using a rip move to get off the block. He then just runs through both blocking attempts to get into the pocket while using his unique long arms to get Alex Smith (No. 11) and drag him to the ground for a sack.

Watch the shock from Williams’ jolt as he engages the guard and quickly employs the push-pull/swim combination flawlessly.

He uses his power to get both the guard’s feet off the ground and put him into a panic; then he quickly creates the separation with his length, pulls with his outside arm, and then brings his inside arm over the top while bending so well through the contact at separation.

Williams then easily collects himself and gets to Dalton. That bend is rare to see from someone of Williams' size.

Speaking of that size, observe the nimble feet of Williams on this inside spin move against the Seahawks. He gets upfield in a fast manner towards the tackle's outside shoulder, and the timing he uses on this spin is phenomenal.

He sets the tackle up and then quickly sinks his hips, gets his inside shoulder right into the midline of the tackle, and then spins inside only to be met by a waiting guard.

However, Williams fails to give up on the rep, and he continues to work inside until he sees the path to Russell Wilson (No. 3), which earns him a sack.

Williams does such a fantastic job with his hands winning against this guard. He attacks outside initially and then shifts his path towards the inside while using his hands to keep the offensive linemen from limiting space and controlling the rep.

Williams is able to get that outside arm underneath the inside arm of the guard. He then rips through the block and bends through the subsequent push and contact to sack Nick Mullins (No. 4).

Will, bend, length, power, strong hands--these were all on display here from the newly resigned defensive lineman.

Four-man pressure packages are becoming a bit more common in the NFL, if not three-man packages. This forces defensive coordinators to be a bit more creative with manipulating pass protection. To do that, the defense needs to bring more exotic stunts/twists upfront.

Patrick Graham called many of these throughout 2020, and Williams was excellent in performing as a penetrator and a looper.

On this play, he’s a looper going inside with Dalvin Tomlinson (No. 94) as the penetrator - this was a very potent tag team all season, but I feel like B.J. Hill, and Dexter Lawrence have the timing and skills to perform Tomlinson’s task well.

The sell job from the looper has to fool both linemen and allow that penetrator to pick off the tackle. While the guard is preoccupied with the penetrator, the looper has to be quick enough to disengage, if engaged, and then explode through the vacated lane before there’s a transition of assignments between the guard and tackle.

The guard barely touches Williams, and the result is an easy sack.

The Ugly: Replication

There’s not much to critique about Leonard Williams’ abilities in his first full season as a Giant. He cleaned up the consistency, was still solid as a run defender, and came up big in gigantic situations.

However, Williams will have to prove his worth now that he’s been paid. I don’t envision work ethic issues or anything of that sort with a player as prideful as Williams. Still, he had “disappointing” seasons in the past after years of quality football.

During his time with the Jets, his first two seasons in the NFL made him appear to be the next dominating force in the league before he took a slight dip for the next three seasons.

Now he just had a breakout year with the Giants, he’s been paid, and we all need that consistency to be retained from the 2020 season this year.

I don’t have qualms about this notion, especially with Patrick Graham calling the plays and the additions of Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and the return of Lorenzo Carter. Yet, I do believe it is fair to acknowledge this since we saw it happen in the past. 


WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney | ILB Reggie Ragland | WR John Ross | TE Kyle Rudolph | OLB Oshane Ximines | LB Carter Coughlin | DL Dexter Lawrence II | WR Darius Slayton | LB Cam Brown

Be sure to keep it locked on Giants Country all the time!