Leonard Williams is headed back home. After originally being named a first alternate to the Pro Bowl, Williams got the call from the NFL and will replace Oakland Raiders defender Khalil Mack at the league's annual all-star game on Jan. 29 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL.
Williams, who attended Mainland HS in Daytona Beach, FL, led the Jets this season with 7.0 sacks and 25 QB hits. He also finished second on the team with 86 tackles and his 11 TFL tied for second.
"He made great strides as far as reading blocks and a leadership standpoint," said head coach Todd Bowles. "Leonard is really coming into his own and really stepping out front and being more of a leader there. I look forward to that being more so next year, but Leonard has made great strides for us."
At just 22-years-old, Williams became the youngest player in franchise history to be awarded team MVP honors. While that award was chosen by his teammates, players are voted to the Pro Bowl by the coaches, the players and the fans with each group's ballots counting for a third of the votes. With a stellar sophomore campaign, Williams put himself in position to get his first invite and that indeed happened.
"The fans see the stats and the TFLs and the sacks and that's the reason they vote for you," he said after being named a first alternate for the AFC. "But to me, it's just overall, play in and play out, just knowing what I'm doing. I'm playing faster, I'm reacting faster. I know how to play certain blocks better. I know how to pass-rush better. Overall, I've just become more of a well-oiled machine."
The Jets, who own the No. 6 overall selection in April's draft, picked Williams from that same spot in 2015 after he registered 27 TFL and 14 sacks at USC. In his rookie season, Williams appeared in 16 games and totaled 77 tackles in addition to 3.0 sacks.
"Well we felt very good about him. And we knew when we drafted him that we felt very fortunate to take him when he was available. That was kind of an easy pick for us," said GM Mike Maccagnan. "But really just watching Leonard develop over the first two seasons, I would say that as a player on the field he's very young, very talented and has really elevated his play from season one to season two."
While officially listed as a DE, Williams spent plenty of time battling centers and guards in the Jets' 3-4 base look. A stout run defender in the middle, Williams helped the defense finish T4 in terms of yards per carry (3.7). He also credited scheme familiarity as Leo played with his hair on fire all year.
"This is my first time playing under a defensive coordinator [Kacy Rodgers] two years back-to-back since high school," said Williams during the season. "So I knew the system coming back this year and it just allowed me to play fast starting from OTAs."
Williams has received a well-deserved bonus game in two weeks before he can officially put a stamp on a spectacular second year.
"He has a very bright future ahead of him," Maccagnan said. "But even more important to us, from a character standpoint off the field, he's a very mature, responsible, accountable player that we think is going to be a foundation for us going forward."
Best Images of the Curtis Martin Team MVP