The New York Giants gave Leonard Williams a big deal to stay with the team this offseason, but based on the opinions of a number of executives, coaches, and scouts from around the league, that might be a justified decision. These figures placed Williams with the top 10 interior linemen in the league when they were polled by ESPN about their opinions on the position. Following the best season of his career, Williams came in at number 7.
7. Leonard Williams, New York Giants
Highest ranking: 4 | Lowest ranking: Unranked
Age: 27 | Last year’s ranking: N/A
The most polarizing player on the list, Williams was labeled an underachiever before his 11.5-sack breakout in 2020 prompted a massive contract extension with the Giants.
“He doesn’t know what he can be yet,” said a Pro Bowl defensive player.
Added an NFC scout: “That combination of size and athleticism is just rare.”
The positional flexibility is a challenge for defenses. Williams can line up inside, or become the Giants’ best pass-rusher off the edge. But evaluators aren’t sure whether his breakout this past season is an anomaly.
“Talented, just doesn’t put it together consistently,” the NFC scout said.
One veteran NFL defensive coach said he “wasn’t sure what he was looking at’ when he evaluated Williams’ tape during the player’s tenure with the Jets.
“Last year was not shocking based on ability, and my guess is he’ll have a similar year [in 2021],” the coach said. “But it’s hard to tell with him.”
What does this say about Williams?
It’s interesting that Williams was placed in the top 10 on this list of the best interior linemen, because he’s shown that he can be an effective player while acting as an edge rusher. It goes to show his effectiveness at multiple spots, and after the Giants let go of Dalvin Tomlinson to afford giving Williams an extension, he’ll have to have a bigger impact on the defensive line as a whole.
The sentiment around the league seems to be that he’s very much a talented player but that he may or may not apply that talent consistently in crunch time. All of the quotes in the article acknowledged his ability, but it’s clear that not everyone is sure Williams can keep up his play from 2020.
During last season, Williams had 11.5 sacks. His previous highest total was 7, and that came all the way back in 2016 during his sophomore season. Whether he has as many sacks or not, it’s clear Williams is going to have a very large role on the defensive line this year.
The one question remaining is whether his time with the Jets will repeat itself and his play will take a step back as some might fear.