With apologies to the brand we all know and love, when a player like Leonard Williams drops down into your NFL Draft spot, even if you’re duplicating your team’s particular strength at the defensive line, sometimes, you just have to do it. “It” being to select a player that some experts thought was the best player among the future millionaires at last night’s NFL Draft. For the New York Jets, it was a no-brainer; and if the draft were held at Radio City Music Hall, there’s a guarantee that the standard booing of first round selections for the team wouldn’t have come at all from Jets fans. Instead, there would have been a mixture of cheers, incredulity, and WTF looks everywhere.
As the NFL Draft approached, many thought the Jets would grab an edge rusher for their linebacking corp to use in their (assumed) 3-4 base defense. Players such as Dante Fowler, Jr. or Vic Beasley, for example. Maybe they would get some fresh legs to play with Chris Ivory and select Todd Gurley. While Amari Cooper at wide receiver was a bit of a hopeful reach, perhaps Kevin White would be there for the taking to learn from Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and provide another talented receiver for Geno Smith, who seems to need all the help he can get. While Williams had the most minuscule of chances to drop to the sixth pick, it was never a tangible thought that it would actually happen.
Yes, the Jets have Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson (rumored to now be a trade chip, but should be kept and re-signed), and Quinton Coples at the defensive end position; the trio all adept at stopping the run and getting to the quarterback (20.5 sacks combined). So, did the Jets really need to draft Williams – 80 total tackles, 7.0 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles last year at USC? YES!
Understandably, depending on if new Jets head coach Todd Bowles keeps a 3-4 defensive base, the Williams pick might be a bit of overkill. But… Williams is the best defensive player in the draft, and as close to a sure thing as any player coming into the NFL next season. It would be ludicrous to pass on him, position notwithstanding. This was a classic BPA (Best Player Available) selection, but perhaps more than that, it might be a BP (Best Player) selection. Williams has actually been compared to J.J. Watt, and that Watt guy is pretty good.
And, let’s be serious, when is it ever the situation where you can have too many defensive linemen? Remember the undefeated season the New England Patriots were having in 2007? How about the Jets roommates, the New York Giants, who came into the 2007 season without any real Super Bowl-contending expectations? Well, they both met in the Super Bowl with all of the Pats’ opponents not having any answers for their big-time offense led by Tom Brady and Randy Moss… until that final NFL game for the season. The Giants won the 2008 Super Bowl and it is most memorable for Eli Manning’s pass to David Tyree, who made a leaping one-handed catch, pinning the ball to his helmet. However, it was the Giants’ constant rotation of defensive linemen – Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jay Alford, Fred Robbins, and Barry Cofield – that kept Brady on his toes, and five times on his back. How is it bad to have too many defensive linemen?
But, wait, that Giants team played a 4-3 defense you say! That’s an excellent point, and would be an easy solution for the Jets to have Richardson, Wilkerson, Coples, and Williams on the field at the same time. But Bowles, while the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, played a 3-4 base. Would he change his successful defensive strategy to accommodate personnel? It remains to be seen, but even if he didn’t, rotating healthy bodies, and more importantly, very talented players is a great problem to have. And, it should be noted that Coples should also be able to fall back and join the linebackers as an edge rusher and still be effective.
Where does this leave Williams in the grand scheme of things? Actually, wherever. During his three years at USC, Williams played for three different defensive coordinators, playing three different base schemes, and moved around a lot. As a freshman, he was in a 4-3; as a sophomore, he was in a 5-2; last season, he was in a 3-4, playing the defensive tackle position. Williams’ strength and quickness stand out, but it’s also his versatility that garner rave reviews from experts and NFL managers alike.
For the New York Jets, relative to all of the defensive elements that they’ve added during the NFL offseason thus far – adding Bowles, re-signing defensive anchor David Harris, and signing Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie as free agents, especially – the selection of Leonard Williams is just super sweet icing on an already sweet cake. Snacks? We got the best ones here, Rex.