How Leonard Williams Plans to Become a More Productive Pass Rusher

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams has yet to live up to his potential as a pass rusher, but here is why there is reason to believe that he will be more productive this year.
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Numbers don't lie.

Defensive tackle Leonard Williams only racked up 0.5 sacks in his eight-game stint with the Giants last year after being acquired via trade from the Jets.

However, numbers also prove that Williams might not be as far off from being a productive pass rusher for the Giants as his low sack total suggests.

According to Pro Football Focus, no player had a more significant difference between their pressure rate and sack rate rank than Williams.

In eight games with the Giants, Williams finished third on the defense with 31 total pressures. He also ranked 13th in pressure rate at 11.3 percent (out of 87 defensive linemen) and tied for the lead in quarterback hits (19) with Calais Campbell.

General manager Dave Gettleman said that the trade to acquire Williams, which cost a third and fifth-round draft pick, allowed him and the Giants brass to get a sense of what Williams can do long-term.

Gettleman saw enough in terms of potential to bring Williams back for at least one more season on a one-year $16 million franchise tag to try and put it all together as a pass rusher.

But still, the Giants would like to see better production from Williams as a pass rusher specific to him finishing his pass rushes and getting home.

At the end of last season, Gettleman, per an NFL Network report, suggested that Williams improve his upper body strength which would presumably help Williams improve his bull-rush and give him the ability to ride a tackle around the pocket, using the “dip-and-dip” move to get under a blocker’s shoulders and move inside to the quarterback.

The added upper-body strength is just one example of how Williams is looking to step up his game in 2020 and fulfill his potential in the NFL, something he hasn't done to this point in his five-year career.

Williams has managed to be productive in the NFL since being drafted sixth overall by the Jets out of USC in 2015. However, with only one Pro-Bowl appearance and 17.5 career sacks, he hasn't quite lived up to his billing as the elite defensive line prospect he was coming out of college.

In three years at USC, Williams dominated as a two-time first-team All-American, with 35.5 career sacks 218 total tackles.

Williams admitted that his natural talent and athleticism allowed him to get away with not playing with a technical or mental advantage.

"I was able to get away with just being better than my opponent all my life basically in high school and in college," Williams said. "Whereas now instead of just trying to be physically better or faster than my opponent, now just bringing it down to the basics and playing technique every play, and letting my technique take me to the play."

Defensive line coach Sean Spencer has been very hands-on with Williams on the practice field and in the classroom so far in training camp to help Williams perfect his craft as a pass rusher.

"I think understanding your angles and understanding why you finished or didn’t finish on that rep," Spencer said this week regarding how he tried to help Williams with finishing.

"More so, it’s just a continuation of that motor--keep that motor going at all times. If you’re going fast and you are going hard all the time, I really think that good things will happen for you. I know it sounds cliché, just go hard, but that’s a part of it, it’s a part of the basics of football. If you go hard on every play, good things will happen to you."

Williams, who is looking for that lucrative multiyear contract, has taken Spencer's advice to heart.

"Technique is always a focus but coach Spencer has definitely been harping on it with me," Williams said. "I think that's a good thing and I think we have a good working relationship when it comes to that and I've definitely been taking his coaching."

With a combination of newfound upper-body strength and a greater emphasis on technique, Williams may be in a position to have his best season as a pro in 2020.

Gettleman has invested a lot to make Williams a Giant this year, and the Giants will depend on Williams to yield a return on that investment with improved sack totals.