Among the reasons cited for the lack of a serious push from the Jets to sign defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to a long-term contract this offseason is the presence of Sheldon Richardson and 2015 first-round pick Leonard Williams.
With Williams and Richardson filling out the defensive line, the argument is that the Jets don’t feel they need to commit to Wilkerson beyond the franchise tag they gave him for the coming season. Williams backed up that feeling as a rookie by leading the team in quarterback hits while recording 63 tackles and three sacks.
Williams says he’d like to do even more as a pass rusher this season and feels prepared to take a step up now that he’s had more time in the team’s defensive scheme.
“It is different because last year I just kept thinking, ‘rookie, rookie, rookie,’ but now … I know that I’m a pro now,” Williams said, via the New York Post. “I know the playbook now, so I don’t have to think as much when I’m out there, I can just play. It’s less pressure now that I’m not a rookie anymore, and I don’t have to have that tag or label on me. It’s just been more comfortable overall this year.”
Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said Williams has taken his maturity “to another level” this offseason, which supports the notion that he’ll be doing more on the field for the Jets this season. If things play out that way, the Jets will likely feel comfortable about the future of their defensive line wherever Wilkerson winds up in 2017 and beyond.