The New York Jets are in a rebuilding year, but they’re fortunate to be able to build around Leonard Williams.
On the field, the young defensive tackle has been very impressive. He collected seven sacks and two forced fumbles last season, becoming a disrupting force on the inside. He took a big step forward, although part of that could have been due to moving inside to his natural position for more snaps with Damon Harrison signing with the New York Giants.
Williams has developed very quickly and has shown himself to be very capable of playing at a high level in the NFL. He’s developed his pass rush moves very well and is starting to become more comfortable in defending the run. But great play alone does not make one a leader. What a player does off the field is what really defines a player as a leader, and that’s where Williams shines.
What really jumps out as Williams establishing himself as a leader is how he handled the incident involving fellow first-round pick Darron Lee at a concert a few months ago. For those who don’t remember, Lee was in an altercation with a female and Williams picked him up and carried him away, per Emma Baccellieri from Deadspin.
While Williams probably wasn’t thinking about keeping is teammate out of trouble at the time, it’s what he ultimately did. While there’s no way of knowing what would have happened had Williams not taken Lee away, Lee was apparently starting to get physical with the woman.
If, and this is purely hypothetical and not meant to accuse Lee of anything, but if the situation took the worst possible route and Lee threw a punch at the woman, there would be many issues.
The first, and by far the most important, is a 220-pound professional athlete should not be hitting a woman. Williams stopping that makes him a great person, but that in it of itself doesn’t show his leadership.
However (and once again this absolutely not the primary concern with this hypothetical situation), had Lee hit the woman there would have been a ton of headaches for the Jets. When your first round pick that you’re hoping can help lead the new generation of Jets players is caught hitting a woman, it’s a problem. Williams getting Lee out of that situation prevented that problem from happening.
However, Williams is also working to change the culture of the Jets. The team is notably building for the future, and while Williams does understand that there is a process to building a winner, he isn’t interested in moral victories.
Williams told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:
“Every year if you’re not focused on a championship or a Super Bowl, what are we doing it for? Why are we showing up to OTAs and the offseason program and putting our bodies on the line if we’re not focused on a Super Bowl”
The point of Williams saying that is that mediocrity isn’t acceptable in his eyes. The players’ job is to try and win a Super Bowl, and he appears to be intent on holding his teammates accountable for that goal.
Another quote, and possibly a more telling one, was given to David Wyatt of Gang Green Nation:
“I’m not really focused on self-accolades besides how much I can do for my teammates. I’m expecting the same thing out of my teammates, too, and how much they can give to the team. I’m really focused on what we can do together because I’m not on the field by myself. There’s 10 other people and they help me do my job. I’m going to try to help them do theirs.”
Williams would much rather collect 16 wins than 16 sacks, and that speaks volumes to the type of player he is. He wants the team to be successful, and if that means that his stats take a hit while he’s drawing a double team or plugging a running lane then so be it. He also expressed a willingness to demand more from his teammates if the situation called for it, while giving his all every time on the field. That’s a true leader.
Williams is young, but he is mature beyond his years and is a team-first player. He’s quickly developing into a true leader on a young Jets team.