PHILADELPHIA — Just as it was with the Jets, Leonard Williams’ greatest strengths with the Giants lie in areas not always quantifiable by the usual measures to judge a defensive lineman.
There still are no sacks this season for the 25-year-old Williams, who was traded from the Jets on Oct. 28 in exchange for a third-round pick next year and a fifth-rounder in 2021. The fifth-rounder would become a fourth if Williams re-signs with the Giants before next season. Heading into Monday night’s game against the Eagles, there have been only 10 tackles in four games, just one tackle for a loss to go with seven quarterback hits.
That’s not the kind of high-volume statistical production the Giants had hoped for from Williams, especially with his uncertain contract looming. And despite Williams’ desire to stay in the moment, he does think about what lies ahead.
“It’s kind of hard not to, especially with the kind of decisions that have been made throughout the season so far, and with the season coming to an end soon,” Williams told Newsday. “At the same time, I try not to get ahead of myself and I try not to think about yesterday. I try to be where my feet are and do the most that I can to help my future. It’s what I do today that matters.”
Williams said there still is uncertainty about what happens next, but his preference is to remain with the Giants.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said when asked if he envisioned himself with the team in the years ahead. “But I would want to be here. I’m already getting close to some of the guys, the coaches. I know all that type of stuff changes, no matter what, but at the same time, I’m pretty invested once I get to be a part of something. I’m invested in being here and giving the best I can.”
But that investment will continue only if the Giants invest in Williams. He said there is no guarantee he’ll remain with the team beyond this season, and that a lot will depend on how much the Giants are willing to pay him once his rookie contract is up.
“There’s nothing [that has been discussed] so far, so I don’t know yet,” he said.
Williams, the sixth overall pick by the Jets in the 2015 draft, has not produced the kind of sack totals envisioned of the former USC star. He has just 17 career sacks, and in a contract year, that goose egg in the sack column certainly stands out.
But he does believe his play measures up, even if the numbers might not show it.
“I think things have been working out pretty well,” he said. “The [defensive] scheme is a little different than it was with the Jets, but it’s also kind of similar to what [former Jets coach] Todd Bowles did with me. What I like about it here is that they move me around a lot. I’ve played a lot of 3-technique, which is my primary position, but I’ve also been playing defensive end a lot, which is fun. I’ve been lining up on tight ends more and I’ve been on the edge a lot.”
The Giants’ coaches have been pleased with Williams.
“Leonard is a great young man, number one,” Giants defensive line coach Gary Emanuel said. “He works hard, he likes football, he brings a great attitude and a lot of spirit to the team. He brings versatility to the group, so I like him a lot.”
But what about the lack of sacks? Isn’t that a concern?
“You can’t look at players always as numbers,” Emanuel said. “He has been disruptive. He’s doing some things against the run and the pass, he’s affecting the quarterback, he’s making him move off of his spot. He’s just missing the sack plays and things like that. But he’s having an impact on defense.”
It remains to be seen how that impact will translate to numbers. General manager Dave Gettleman paid a hefty price to get Williams, and if he commands big money that the Giants are unwilling to pay, then there’s a chance they could surrender two draft picks for what amounts to an eight-game rental in a losing season.
That’s not the kind of roster-building decision that bodes well for Gettleman, whose moves have come under plenty of scrutiny during his two-year run as general manager. If Williams gets away in the offseason, it’s one more setback for a team with far too many of them.