Pietaro: Leonard Williams Making Sheldon Richardson an Afterthought

(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)

It was only one play in Week 3, but the type that will always stick out in an NFL rookie’s mind. Career sack number one for a highly touted defensive lineman that “fell” to the sixth overall selection in the draft is an important stat, even if it was shared with a teammate and came in a losing effort. But the big picture is that Leonard Williams has been everything the scouts had predicted and is off to a flying start for the 2-1 New York Jets.

“It was good to get a half a sack with Mo (Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson),” says Williams following the 24-17 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. “It felt good.”

Williams would have seen a lot of action as a first round draft pick but has barely left the field due to the absence of Sheldon Richardson, who is serving a four-game suspension for marihuana use (which may end up being more for an offseason arrest). So the former Trojan has been moving around a lot on the line and playing on both running and passing downs.

“I get to play against different offensive lineman and they’re not picking up on my tendencies,” the 6’5” 300-pounder commented, “and they used me the same way at USC.”

With the timetable of Richardson’s return in doubt, the Jets have to feel thankful that they didn’t draft for need but rather took the best player available on the board. They have picked a d-lineman in the first round in four of the last five years: Wilkerson in 2011, Quinton Coples in 2012, Richardson in 2013 and Williams.

All are important cogs in Todd Bowles’s defensive scheme and gives the Jets rookie head coach depth at a spot where many teams lack production. So even if the league punishes Richardson more (which they should, considering the 143 miles-per-hour drag racing and subsequent fleeing from the police with a 12-year-old in the vehicle, topped off with reaching for a loaded semi-automatic handgun as the officer approached and the odor of marihuana being in said vehicle), Williams has shown that he can handle the job more than adequately.

“We don’t know what the situation is going to be (with Richardson’s suspension) but I’m going to keep showing up to work and doing whatever they want me to do,” remarks Williams.

Putting in the hard work is something that Williams knows he has to do and a knee injury in the third preseason game may have slowed him up somewhat, as he tired slightly in the fourth quarter of his successful NFL debut (five tackles in a win over Cleveland). But he addressed that immediately with a little help from a teammate.

“Since I got pretty fatigued in the first game, my conditioning has been great since then,” he explains. “I felt really good the whole time that I was out there (since then). Me and 52 (veteran linebacker David Harris) get after it after workouts…doing conditioning on the bikes.”

With 15 tackles through his first three games as a pro, Williams appears to have a long and prosperous career ahead of him. And although he will amass a lot more sacks, that first-ever partial one of Sam Bradford will always be special to him.

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