Two years after Sheldon Richardson was named Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press, Leonard Williams will be up for the same award Saturday night as the NFL salutes its best players and plays from last season with "NFL Honors." Both NFL Media's Charley Casserly and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper believe Williams was the NFL's top first-year player in 2015.
Everyone thought the Jets scored big drafting Leonard Williams at No. 6 -- and they did! Jets D-lineman Leonard Williams played a key role in the NFL's second-best run defense," wrote Casserly on NFL.com.
While most pundits polled in the NFL.com article believe Chiefs CB Marcus Peters will ultimately hear his name called, ESPN's Mel Kiper recently tabbed Williams as his top rookie.
"He played nearly 800 snaps, was outstanding against the run, helped free up teammates to rush the passer, and actually did some great work in pushing the pocket himself," Kiper said. "You really have to watch Williams on every snap because stats won't do him justice. I had him as the No. 1 overall player in the 2015 NFL draft, and I think he lived up to that. And yes, he was a total steal at No. 6 for New York. Great work by that front office."
The 6'5", 302-pound Williams started 15 games for New York's AFC representative, totaling 77 tackles with 3.0 sacks. Williams matched his season-high with 8 stops in both the Week 16 win over the Pats and the season-ending loss to the Bills.
"I think Leonard had a good season," said head coach Todd Bowles. "I think he's had a very good season. The stats don't always show it, but from a production standpoint and him stuffing the run and him taking up two blockers and understanding blocking schemes better and playing a lot better and faster as the year goes on, I thought he made a lot of progress."
Bowles, who said Williams used his hands more effectively later in the year, and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers believe Williams will continue to improve in Year 2.
"We would definitely say the arrow is up for Leonard, but the way he stepped in, we're very pleased with him," Rodgers said. "We think he has a tremendous ceiling left to go, but he's done everything we have asked him to do, and the game is not too big for him, and we think he's doing a pretty good job."