75° Good Morning
75° Good Morning

Jets take defensive star Leonard Williams with sixth pick in NFL Draft

USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams poses for photos

USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams poses for photos with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the New York Jets as the sixth pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Chicago. Photo Credit: AP / Charles Rex Arbogast

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Mike Maccagnan stayed true to his plan of taking the best player available, and the Jets wound up being the big winners on Day 1 of the NFL Draft.

Somehow, Leonard Williams fell down the board Thursday night, first slipping past Jacksonville, then Oakland and, surprisingly, Washington. The USC defensive lineman, whom many draft experts considered the most talented player in the entire draft class, was right there for the taking, and Maccagnan didn't waste any time pulling the trigger.

"We were kind of surprised he fell to us," he said. "He was, basically, too good of a value to pass on at that point in time."

Williams was in the top three on the Jets' board. No one -- not even Williams -- could believe the Jets wound up taking him.

"It was a big surprise for me," the 20-year-old said on a conference call. "I thought they were going to go for someone on the offense or something like that just because the Jets are already known for having such a D-line. So I was really surprised, but also really excited to be a part of their great tradition and great D-line."

Williams, who said he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder after the 2013 season, said he wasn't panicking about slipping a few spots.

"Not much was going through my mind," said Williams, who had 80 tackles and seven sacks in 2014. "I expected anything because you can never trust the mock drafts."

Despite his innate ability, the pick raised eyebrows because of Muhammad Wilkerson's contract situation.

The addition of Williams -- who had 218 tackles (including 361/2 for losses), 21 sacks and two interceptions in his three-year college career -- felt like a vintage Rex Ryan move. The Jets have used six straight first-round selections on defense. Their defensive line was a major strength, thanks to the play of Wilkerson, the 30th overall pick in 2011; Sheldon Richardson, the 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and nose tackle Damon Harrison.

But Maccagnan insisted the Jets aren't "actively" shopping Wilkerson, though he admitted "everyone puts out feelers" to gauge team needs and interests.

Wilkerson's camp and the Jets have been trying to reach an agreement on an extension since last season. He is due to earn $6.96 million this season, well below the salary of star defensive linemen. Maccagnan said he anticipates that he and coach Todd Bowles will reach out to Wilkerson.

Even if the Jets don't trade Wilkerson, they have the leverage in contract talks because they can place the franchise tag on him next year.

Bowles insisted you never can have too much of a good thing -- especially on the defensive line.

"Leonard was the best guy on our board," Bowles said when asked if the decision to build up the defensive line was an attempt to offset their quarterback deficiencies. "We weren't trying to compensate for the quarterback or not compensate."

Said Maccagnan: "When you look through all the mock drafts, his name consistently came up in the first three or four or five picks in the draft . . .He's a very big, physically talented, very young player. So we feel he has a very, very big upside and a lot of potential. It was a fairly easy decision to make."

New York Sports