New York Giants: Leonard Williams on Azeez Ojulari’s development

The New York Giants have another impact player on defense going into this season, and we’ll soon witness his regular season debut. That player is Azeez Ojulari, who the Giants took in the second round this year – but it appears that Ojulari was severely underdrafted. The Giants were able to get the player at such a low spot because of draft week injury rumors, but after training camp and the preseason, Ojulari looks healthy and ready to play.

And he already has teammates singing his praises, including the Giants’ leading pass rusher Leonard Williams. As the player who led the Giants in sacks during the past season, Williams is someone who will likely share playing time with Ojulari in the pass rush and who will already have experience working hands on with him throughout training camp.

Williams was asked on Friday what he’d seen from Ojulari that showed the rookie can make an instant impact. His answer had to do with confidence.

“Honestly, just his confidence. When he first came in, I could tell he was young, he was still trying to find himself in the defense and on the team and rightfully so. As a young guy, you can’t come in and be above everybody. He knew the position that he had to take, but now he’s really stepped into himself,” Williams told reporters.

Furthermore, he claims that Ojulari is in a position to start making plays rather than just picking up the ropes of the system.

“I think he just got more comfortable with himself – not saying that he wasn’t comfortable before he got here, but just seeing his comfortability level between him and other players, and his ability to just be himself out there on the field and not be like a robot just trying to play a system.”

With first round pick Kadarius Toney having a slow start to his career, most publications have named Ojulari the most impactful rookie for the Giants this season. And his presence in a much needed position, pass rusher, could easily make him a fan favorite if his rookie performances are strong.

We’ll get our first look at Ojulari against the Broncos in week 1, and depending on how the game goes, it may not take long for him to receive recognition for his skillset as the defense faces off against new Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

3 New York Giants named as players to build around

New York Giants, James Bradberry, logan ryan

The direction that the New York Giants are building in has become slightly clearer over the past couple years – their roster has improved, their wins have increased, and they have a head coach that should be around for a long time. The roster is definitely in a better state than it was when the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley, one of the most significant past moves in their rebuilding history.

But years into the rebuild, which players stand out as the most notable pieces in it? It’s a hotly debated subject, but Pro Football Focus took a swing at judging it and picked three players that, while predictable, might be a bit controversial due to the omission of one player.

CB James Bradberry
DI Leonard Williams
WR Kenny Golladay

In an ideal world, Andrew Thomas’ rookie season would have resembled Tristan Wirfs’ year, making him an easy inclusion here. There were promising things to take away from how Thomas closed the year, but his 62.4 grade was underwhelming. Bradberry’s and Williams’ performances in their first full season on the defense were not. They both ranked fourth at their respective positions in PFF’s Wins Above Replacement metric during the 2020 season.

The Giants will be hoping Golladay entices quarterback Daniel Jones to take more downfield shots. Golladay recently ranked as the league’s third-best deep threat, regularly winning in contested-catch situations downfield. Golladay’s 53 contested catches overall over the past three seasons are second to only Allen Robinson II at the position, even despite all his missed time in 2020.

Evaluating the chosen players

The omission, of course, is Daniel Jones. As we’ve seen from many articles this season from both the national and local media, much of the expectations on Jones this year center around taking a step forward and becoming a franchise player. As of now, though, PFF doesn’t list Jones with the franchise building blocks they have right now.

The three players that were listed, however, are non-controversial enough. James Bradberry looks like one of the best corners in the league, Kenny Golladay is predicted by many to be a top 10 receiver, and Leonard Williams led the team in sacks last season. Williams, though, will likely be the most boom or bust player on this list considering his inconsistent performance throughout his career.

His surroundings are different compared to when he was with the Jets, and Williams plays well under Patrick Graham, so it’s possible that the inconsistency will be shrugged off – but it’s still a concern that will have an impact on how fans look at Dave Gettleman’s decision to bring back Williams on a big contract.

Golladay hasn’t played with the Giants yet one way or another so it’s hard to judge his status as a building block just yet, but based on his performance with the Lions, he could very well be the deep threat Daniel Jones needs.

These three players all have to prove they can perform at a high level consistently in their current surroundings to truly take the title of franchise players, but out of all the players the Giants have, it’s hard to object to them receiving the title of players to build around.

Giants could have dynamic pass rush duo on the defensive line

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

When the New York Giants initially drafted Azeez Ojulari 50th overall in the 2021 NFL draft, they envisioned the overhauling of their outside linebackers unit. With one of the best interior defenses in the NFL, consisting of Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence, adding a few high-quality pass rushers on the outside would theoretically give the Giants a tantalizing pass rush.

With Williams signing a fresh three-year, $63 million deal with the Giants, he’s hoping to replicate his 2020 production, where he posted 11.5 sacks, 57 tackles, and 30 QB hits. He set career highs in nearly every pass rush category, including a low 3.4% missed tackle rate, indicating consistency as a tackler.

As the Giants’ top interior defender and arguably their best player, pairing him with Georgia stand-out Ojulari could provide the Giants a dynamic pass rush duo.

Ojulari ranked first in both sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (4.0) last season in the SEC, registering a unique ability to curate turnovers at the point of attack. With an incredible bend and a great club move, Azeez is primed to be an effective pass rusher right out of the gate, which is exactly what the Giants need considering their lack of talent last year at the position.

Williams demands considerable attention in the trenches, commanding double teams frequently, which should theoretically allow Ojulari to face off against singular players. With his athleticism, speed, and band, getting around the edge will likely be his go-to move in his rookie season. If he can effectively overwhelm tackles, the Giants will have a good shot at improving their sack totals next season (40 total in 2020).

Surprisingly, the Giants and Ojulari were being linked with the 11th overall pick just days before the draft, let alone the 50th. In an extremely lucky series of events, the Giants managed to trade back, acquiring a third-round selection while also adding arguably the most talented pass rusher in the draft class. A torn ACL several years ago was of concern from some teams, but general manager Dave Gettleman assured the fan base that Ojulari’s knee was not a concerning factor.

With coordinator Patrick Graham looking to rely on Cover-1 defense in 2021, a focus on pass-rush will ultimately be a bi-product. It was clear the Giants prioritized adding OLBs to the roster, signing and drafting a total of four, let alone the comeback of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines.

However, Ojulari is the only option that has unlimited upside, with the exception of Elerson Smith, who is a bit undersized but could end up being a stellar rotational piece earlier in his career.

New York Giants: Leonard Williams gets top 10 grade from industry figures

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

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.

New York Giants: Two players make CBS Sports 2021 top 100 list

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

It’s around the time of the offseason when top 100 lists come out, and the New York Giants are a bit more represented on them this time around than they were last year. That, for the most part, is because of the players who stepped up last season and raised their profile as top names at their position. James Bradberry made it onto PFF’s top 100 list, but the CBS Sports version of that same list has two different Giants listed.

It seems strange to omit Bradberry as he was one of the best defensive players on the team relative to others around the league at his position, but that’s what this list does as the highest ranked Giant is instead Leonard Williams. Of course, it’s understandable why Williams is on the list. Last season, he responded well to a lot of doubts about his play and gave the Giants their much needed leading pass rusher.

Leonard Williams
New York Giants DE

He was a force last season for the Giants defense, finally achieving the level of play expected of him when he came into the league with the Jets. Williams earned a new contract because of his impressive play.

The other addition on the list is perhaps more surprising – not because of the raw talent of the player, but because of his absence during last year. This player is Saquon Barkley, who comes in on the top 100 despite the long chronological gap since he’s last performed.

Saquon Barkley
New York Giants RB

He is coming off a torn ACL suffered in Week 2 last season, which limited him to 34 yards rushing for the year. He did have two impressive seasons to open his career, but can he get back to that same level he flashed as a rookie in 2018?

Many will consider Barkley a strange addition over Bradberry. Bradberry, after all, had the better season more recently. But if the list is including future potential and not just recent performance, it’s understandable why one of the most exciting running backs in the league would make it into the top 100 despite coming off an injury.

New York Giants: Big name players take reluctant approach to OTAs

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

OTAs are the subject of much of the spotlight around the NFL right now at this point in the offseason, but fans of the New York Giants may have noticed that a number of big names were missing from the voluntary practice on Thursday.

These voluntary workouts are, of course, voluntary. There’s no hard requirement for players to turn up to them, but they have a valuable role nonetheless and it often raises eyebrows when high profile players miss out on them. It certainly has for the New York Giants, as it wasn’t just a tiny handful of players skipping but rather a number of influential impact players.

Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News reports that the starting secondary was a no-show and that the team’s big name offseason additions were gone too.

First-round pick Kadarius Toney, big-money free agent signings Kenny Golladay and Adoree Jackson, and expensive re-signing Leonard Williams were among the 20 players out of 90 who did not attend.

This might rub some the wrong way as the Giants spent a first round pick on Toney and gave big contracts to Golladay, Jackson, and Williams. The organization has invested big in all of those names, so some will argue that they should appear more committed and show up for voluntary workouts in return.

It should be mentioned, however, that there’s been no drama around the team itself because of the matter. Players not showing up this time just seems to be a matter of preference, rather than the result of any dramatic situation such as one involving a big name player holding out for a contract or a player being unhappy with the team.

Even if 20 players not attending might be a reason to raise eyebrows, this doesn’t seem – right now at least – like anything to panic over.

Despite losing Dalvin Tomlinson, the New York Giants still have a top-tier defensive line

New York Giants, Dexter Lawrence

The New York Giants improved in many ways during the 2021 offseason. New York landed premium playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The focus was placed mainly on the offense, but the Giants still invested resources in their defense as well.

The Giants signed Adoree’ Jackson to be their new starting outside cornerback opposite of James Bradberry. They also added talented edge rusher Azeez Ojulari in the draft. The Giants also made sure to lock up star defensive lineman Leonard Williams to a long-term deal.

These moves will all be impactful, but they were all quite costly. The Giants had to make a difficult decision and part ways with defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson this offseason. Re-signing Dalvin would have made it impossible for the Giants to upgrade the positions that they did in this offseason. However, despite the loss of Dalvin Tomlinson, the Giants still have one of the most talented defensive line units in the NFL.

The Giants’ defensive line stats and highlights

Leonard Williams will return in 2021 after nearly hitting the open market this offseason. Big Cat spent the 2020 season on the franchise tag, but the Giants made sure to lock him in long-term after a career-year last season. Leonard Williams posted a career-high 11.5 sacks in his first full season with the Giants. He also made PFF’s list of top 1010 players from the 2020 season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Leonard Williams set a career-high in pressure with 62 combined sacks, hits, and hurries — seven more than his previous best. PFF also points out Leo’s typical run-defending excellence, stating that he had had 30 defensive stops in 2020.

The Giants have their top pass-rusher on the interior with Leonard Williams. But he’s not the only hog molly that can get after the quarterback. Dexter Lawrence has been a solid pass-rushing interior defensive lineman in his first two seasons, and he is only getting better. Sexy Dexy bumped his PFF pass-rush grade from 64.5 as a rookie to 73.2 last season.

Dexter Lawrence recorded 4.0 sacks, 53 combined tackles, and 6 tackles for loss in 2020. At 340 pounds, Lawrence moves quick for a man his size and also does a phenomenal job controlling the line of scrimmage, plugging holes in the run game.

With these two stud defensive lineman returning in 2021, the Giants’ defensive line is in good shape regardless of who mans the nose tackle position that Dalvin Tomlinson left vacant. Regardless, the Giants managed to add solid talent to fill Tomlinson’s shoes.

The Giants signed Danny Shelton this offseason. Shelton has been a solid, consistent run-defending nose tackle his entire career. According to PFF, Danny Shelton graded 69+ overall in 4 straight seasons from 2016-2019 before going to Detroit in 2020.

The loss of Dalvin Tomlinson will be felt on the Giants’ defense as he was a tremendous talent for them since 2017. However, the Giants still have a plethora of talent on the defensive line. The Giants should still have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL with Williams, Lawrence, and Shelton.

New York Giants defensive duo of Azeez Ojulari and Leonard Williams could be special

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The simple fact that the New York Giants finished the 2020 season with 40 sacks is mesmerizing. After losing starters Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, the Giants were forced to utilize options like Carter Coughlin, a seventh-round pick last year, and Jabaal Sheard, who was plucked off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had very little to work with, but the Giants made it a priority to give him another weapon on defense in Georgia stand-out edge rusher Azeez Ojulari.

Ojulari was drafted 50th overall, as the Giants moved back to acquire an additional third-round pack and also managed to land arguably the best pass rusher in this year’s draft class. Last season, he finished with 9.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles. At just 20 years old, he has incredible potential, ranking first in the SEC in sacks and fumbles forced.

What does Azeez Ojulari bring to the New York Giants?

Ojulari has sufficient bend around the edge and great speed off the line of scrimmage, making him the Giants’ best outside pass rusher instantly. While Lorenzo Carter did show signs of progression last season before tearing his Achilles, returning from an injury like that can be problematic, especially for a player who was never considered above average.

The dynamic duo the Giants can create with interior pass rusher Leonard Williams and Ojulari could be special. As we know, Williams was the Giants’ best defender in 2020, finishing the season with 11.5 sacks, 57 combined tackles, 30 quarterback hits, and 14 tackles for a loss. He was incredible in nearly every facet of the game, dominating the trenches and earning a massive payday because of it.

The Giants dished out a three-year, $63 million deal for one of the league’s best interior defenders, and applying a great outside presence next to him will only increase the efficiency of the defense. Having ranked 12th in total sacks last season, the Giants are looking to take a step forward, but how will the duo of Williams and Ojulari work?

While Williams dominates the interior and draws double teams, he will give Azeez the ability to attack tackles 1V1. Considering the NFL has a massive lack of talent at OT, the Giants can get creative with how they utilize their blitzers. For example, if they line up Leonard Williams in the 3-tech on the right side of the line of scrimmage and Azeez at outside linebacker, they can utilize additional pass rushers like Jabrill Peppers or Logan Ryan off the edge to pressure quarterbacks into making premature decisions.

I expect Graham to get extremely creative and progressive with his play-calling this upcoming season, especially with the addition of cornerback Adoree Jackson, who should allow Graham to return to his man coverage roots. This will allow him to send more blitzers and attack the quarterback more efficiently.

Expect to see a healthy dosage of 3-4 and 3-3-5 five formations in 2021, as the Giants have a strong combination of speed, power, and coverage abilities to help stop passing attacks. Since the NFL is becoming a passing league, defenses must prioritize skilled players in the secondary with big interior lineman up front. This 3-3-5 coverage indicates three down lineman and five defensive backs, providing three linebackers — sam, will, mic. While the Giants don’t have a plethora of linebackers for this specific formation, settling into the 3-4 with OLBs primarily makes the most sense.

Since the Giants have strong secondary players, they can utilize their OLB is to rush the passer frequently. That is where I see Ojulari making his impact, and standing him up alongside Leonard Williams should be devastating for opposing offenses.

New York Giants: Coaching staff credited with Leonard Williams improvement

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

New York Giants defensive end Leonard Williams has had an up and down past few years. He managed only half a sack during the season he was traded to the Giants, and many expected him to fall flat, but he was able to turn thing around to have a career high in sacks. There’s some reasons why that might have happened. Change of scenery, being with the team from the start of the year instead of arriving in a trade, and all that.

However, there’s another link in this story that played a role in getting Williams back as a Giant on a huge three year deal. That link is the coaching staff, which changed entirely from the one that was in charge at the time of the original trade.

“I do well under a coach that pushes you and tries to get their best out of you. And that’s definitely what this coaching staff does,” Williams recently confirmed to reporters.

The biggest change for Williams was Patrick Graham taking over the defense, and it was Graham’s system that was able to get him open often enough to register 11.5 sacks. Considering how the offseason led to a big deal, Williams has plenty of reasons to be thankful for Graham’s coaching.

“[The coaching staff] doesn’t care if you’re a rookie just now coming in or you’re a guy that’s been in the league for a long time. They’re going to try to get the best out of you. And you know, I think I thrive well under an environment that, that pushes you,” Williams continued.

It’s not the only similar praise Joe Judge and his staff have gotten, and it seems to be true enough. At least in thee case of Williams. We can see his increase on the field since the team cleaned up its coaching staff with our own eyes, after all.

He compared it to older days and playing in high school when things weren’t all about the money and the media narratives.

However, Williams ironically did take the money to stay when he agreed on a long term deal with the Giants, which will leave everyone within the fanbase hoping that his performances this year are on par with 2020. With how things look roster wise, the Giants can’t afford to swing and miss on this big time contract.

New York Giants and Leonard Williams agree to three-year contract extension

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The New York Giants have finally agreed to terms with Leonard Williams on a contract extension, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Leonard Williams agreed to a three-year extension worth $63 million, including $45 million guaranteed. This deal has been a long time coming. There was a “standout” between Williams and the Giants, according to Ian Rapoport, but the two sides were able to come together and strike a deal in a matter of hours.

This move has given the Giants financial flexibility and the ability to get to work in free agency. Leonard Williams’s 2021 cap hit has been reportedly lowered to $11 million (Pat Leonard, NYDN). Williams was on the franchise tag, due to make $19.3 million fully guaranteed. This move cleared over $8 million in cap space for the Giants this offseason. His new average annual salary will come in at $21 million, but with the Giants tight on cap space this offseason, Leonard’s deal is likely backloaded.

After trading for Leonard Williams in 2019, the Giants placed the franchise tag on him in 2020. He played on the tag and had the best season of his career. In 2020, Leonard Williams posted an impressive, career-high 11.5 sacks with 42 pressures and 14 tackles for loss. He was a playmaker against the run and the pass. The Giants have now locked in their star defender long-term and he will not spend the 2021 season on the franchise tag. After losing Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency yesterday, retaining Leonard Williams will be considered a huge victory for the New York Giants this offseason.