New York Giants: The hidden secrets surrounding Leonard Williams’ influence on defense

Alexander Wilson
New York Giants, Leonard Williams
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – DECEMBER 29: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Leonard Williams #99 of the New York Giants in action against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on December 29, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Eagles defeated the Giants 34-17. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Taking a look at how Leonard Williams helped the New York Giants‘ defensive line:

When general manager Dave Gettleman traded for Leonard Williams, most believed this was a deal meant to save his job and preserve his image within the NFL. Giving up a third-round pick and more for a defensive lineman who simply couldn’t log a sack looked problematic, but when you deep dive into the analytics, his influence is a bit more significant than you would imagine.

With the Giants in 2019, Williams posted 0.5 sacks, 26 combine tackles, 11 quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and one forced fumble. On average, he played about the same percentage of snaps with both the Giants and Jets, but his numbers with Big Blue far out-gained his production with the Jets. He was able to get into the offensive backfield more frequently, seeing an increase of six quarterback hits after the trade, and he logged more tackles for a loss (0 to 2).

However, despite his increase in production, the Giants are scheduled to pay him $16 million for the 2020 campaign. Unless they can extend him and lower his cap hit significantly, they will be overpaying for a player who simply can’t get the quarterback on the ground. Alternatively, you could make the argument that he does his job just fine, drawing double teams regularly and ranking 13th and pressure rate at 11.3%, according to PFF.

From Pro Football Focus:

No player had a bigger deference between his pressure rate rank and sack rate rank than Williams, who split the year between the Giants and the New York Jets prior to his trade. Among 87 interior defenders with 200 or more pass-rushing snaps, Williams ranked 13th in pressure rate at 11.3% but his one sack in 424 pass-rushing snaps put him near the bottom of the list in sack rate. On the other hand, Williams led the position with 19 quarterback hits. A few fractions of a second faster on several of those plays and that sack total looks a whole lot more respectable.

Considering the draft capital that the Giants gave up acquiring Williams, it seems likely that they’ll retain him moving forward. He’s always been a better run defender than a pass-rusher, but he’s certainly better in the passing game than the one sack he was able to produce in 2019. Now the Giants just need to figure out how to balance all the young talent they have at interior defensive line if they re-sign Williams.

When looking at Williams, though, you have to look at the players around him and see how he affected their play as well. Before Williams joined the Giants’ defense, Dalvin Tomlinson was having an OK season. Prior to his week eight arrival, Tomlinson had recorded 0.5 sacks, 17 combine tackles, and 3 QB hits.

After his arrival, Tomlinson posted 32 combine tackles, three sacks, and six quarterback hits. He more than doubled most of his statistical output. This is a significant jump for a player who wasn’t considered to be a foundational piece on the defense. Taking a look over at Dexter Lawrence, who was a rookie in 2019, his stats also saw an improvement.

Before Williams’s arrival, he had posted one sack, 19 combine tackles, and three quarterback hits. After he joined, Lawrence posted 19 combine tackles, 0.5 sacks, and six quarterback hits. His production was about the same, but as a rookie, that is to be expected.

As the chemistry gels between the trio in the trenches, we can expect them to increase their production and offer more value to the defense. Sometimes looking at an individual’s numbers does not tell the full story, and with Leonard Williams, his influence on other players must be considered.