Star Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams spoke on his defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, during a Friday press conference.
Following the 2020 season, however, those same fans were longing for the organization to extend his contract, which it did in the form of a three-year, $63 million deal.
An opinion can drastically change in a year, and what drove that change was Williams’ sheer improvement on the field. He went from basically a non-factor during the eight games he played with Big Blue in 2019 to arguably the team’s defensive MVP in 2020.
While Williams deserves a significant deal of credit for that development, so does Patrick Graham, the Giants’ ever-intelligent defensive coordinator.
“One thing I’ve always raved about Patrick Graham is how smart he is, in terms of knowing our opponent and knowing his players,” Williams told the media Friday afternoon. “We don’t run the same defense every week — we change our defense according to who we’re playing and what type of schemes we’re going to get that week. He also does a good job of knowing his players and putting them in the right position. I think that goes a long way.”
“I think it’s great as a player [having to switch the defense up week-to-week] because, like I said, he knows his players’ skillsets and tries to put them in the best position,” Williams added. “If I know I’m good at a certain thing, he’s going to make sure I perfect what I’m good at instead of changing who I am. He knows players are going to get the job done in different ways…he’s not creating robots out there. Sometimes on paper it’s easy to see X’s and O’s, but it goes a further way as a coach and player to know each other and each other’s skillset and put us in the right position.”
Graham’s creativity and matchup-based schemes essentially revamped a defensive unit that had struggled for a number of years leading up to 2020. New York was 31st, 24th, and 25th in total yards allowed respectively from 2017-19 prior to its No. 12 ranking in that category last season.
Leonard’s success additionally benefitted the organization in off-field ways. The superb production (team-leading 11.5 sacks and 30 quarterback hits) and subsequent re-signing opened the door for the Giants to exercise a number of alternative draft options in this year’s first round.
If Williams struggled and the team decided not to bring him back or if he was productive (which he obviously was) but found another landing spot via free agency, the Giants probably would’ve needed to hone in on a pass rusher in the opening round.
Williams’ success and ensuing return to East Rutherford allowed the Giants to consider other positional needs as well (Big Blue eventually selected Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney at No. 20 overall).