Is Leonard Williams Really What Jets Need to Take Next Step in the AFC?

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterMay 1, 2015

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Maybe Todd Bowles is about to unleash the never-before-seen seven-man defensive front on the AFC?

With the No. 6 overall pick of the 2015 draft, 6'5", 302-pound Leonard Williams is a perfect fit for the New York Jets' team identity—and, most importantly, for new head coach Todd Bowles' defense.

Williams was a relative steal at No. 6, having been called "the surest bet" in this class by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller on CBS Sports Radio. A huge, strong, explosive athlete who's a force against the run and the pass, he has the versatility to line up just about anywhere in just about any defensive front and wreak havoc.

Together with the dramatically overhauled secondary, including the returns of All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and his Pro Bowl running mate Antonio Cromartie, Williams' arrival gives the Jets one of the most talented defenses in football...

...maybe too talented.

Was Williams the best player available? Absolutely. Will he flourish under Bowles? Yes, if he'll flourish anywhere. But was Williams really the best choice to make the Jets better?

With 6'4", 350-pound Damon Harrison, 6'4", 315-pound Muhammad Wilkerson and 6'3", 294-pound Sheldon Richardson, the Jets already have plenty of talented big men up front—two of whom were first-round picks. That doesn't even count 6'6", 290-pound Quinton Coples, another first-round defensive tackle who was displaced by the addition of Wilkerson. As recent draft history has shown, teams that repeatedly sink high draft picks into the same position rarely see positive results.

Even Williams was surprised.

“I thought they were going to go with someone on the offense," Williams told Seth Walder of the New York Daily News, "because the Jets are already known for having such a great D-line."

Williams makes four first-round picks in the last five years at essentially the same position for the Jets—while a hilariously out-of-position Coples and 34-year-old Calvin Pace remain their starting outside linebackers. Further, the bar is high for 3-4 defensive ends: They routinely face double-teams and must be truly exceptional (Justin Smith, J.J. Watt, Richardson) to make an impact.

The Jets defense doesn't really have any holes, so to speak, but one of the few potential areas of improvement was outside pass rush. Williams technically adds "pass rush," but he's not an off-the-edge speed rusher of the sort the Jets lack.

The same argument applies to stopping the run. Yes, Williams will be part of a defensive line that's outstanding against the run, but the Jets are still relying on an aging David Harris at the second level. At some point, the law of diminishing returns applies: A defensive line can only be so good. To be the best this unit can be, it'll need quality linebacker play, too.

All of this ignores the elephant in the room: The Jets were going to be great defensively, anyway. It's the 28th-ranked offense that desperately needed playmakers; journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and specialist tailback Stevan Ridley don't cut it.

By all appearances, trading up for quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn't going to happen. The outlandish packages reportedly offered by Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly weren't enough, per Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer; the Jets couldn't have topped those offers.

Receiver Kevin White, taken by the Chicago Bears with the very next pick, has the size, explosion and talent the Jets have desperately lacked for each of the last three seasons. Not giving Fitzpatrick and still-developing Geno Smith any outside help could be a decision new Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan comes to rue.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

#Jets GM Mike Maccagnan told me last month he hoped to sit at 6 and simply take the best player available. Can’t imagine he saw this coming.

Even without reaching for another wideout, Maccagnan had other options. The player taken after White, Clemson's Vic Beasley, would have been the Jets' missing pure outside linebacker. The Jets could have explored a trade down; surely many teams who didn't think Williams would get past No. 2 were anxious to get a crack at him.

"He was the best player [left] on our board," Maccagnan told Walden. "It was too good of a value to pass on at that point in time." Maccagnan should be commended for sticking to his board. Countless hours of work went into creating that board; ignoring it at the most crucial moment of the draft would be foolhardy.

And yet, the Jets' defensive end logjam begs the question: Now what?

Wilkerson, currently holding out in search of a contract extension, might now find himself involuntarily held out: traded to a team willing to meet his demands. If Maccagnan can get appropriate value back, he might even be able to feed the talent-starved offense.

If not, Bowles will surely find some way to get all his talented toys on the field at once.


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