The Giants today sharply upgraded a defensive line that already includes three highly-drafted young players.
The team announced it has acquired lineman Leonard Williams, the sixth overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, in a trade with the Jets, who will receive a 2020 third-round selection and a 2021 fifth round selection that could become a fourth.
Williams joins a defensive front that includes three-year veteran Dalvin Tomlinson (second-round selection in 2017), second-year pro B.J. Hill (third-round choice in 2018), and rookie Dexter Lawrence, who was chosen 17th overall in the 2019 draft.
Tomlinson and Lawrence have started all eight games this season (the former has started 40 consecutive games) and Hill has played in every game with five starts. Hill leads the trio with 23 tackles (eight solos) but has yet to record a sack after finishing with a Giants rookie record 5.5 last year. Lawrence has 21 tackles (11 solo) and 2.0 sacks, and Tomlinson has 1.5 sacks among his 20 tackles (12 solo). Among the reserve linemen, Olsen Pierre has 2.0 sacks and RJ McIntosh has 1.0.
“I don’t know any of them personally, but I know about them,” Williams said. “I’m definitely excited to get to work with them, get to know the guys personally so we can bond together and get at it. I’m still learning, I have to learn the defense, get the playbook and all that stuff tonight. This is my first time ever in a new building in the NFL, there is a lot going on right now.
“I’m just ready to bring some toughness, some pass rush, some run stop, everything. Being a good teammate to the guys, being a good guy in the building on and off the field, just know that I am going to give it my all every day.”
Williams said he will be able to learn the defense in time to contribute to the defense when the Giants host the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
“I don’t think it will be too hard,” he said. “When I was in college, I had a different defensive coordinator every year, I had two different D-coordinators here (with the Jets). I think because I’ve had so many different D-coordinators and had to learn defenses quickly, I’ve learned how to learn stuff fast.”
In a corresponding move, the Giants waived linebacker Tae Davis, who was one of the four starting linebackers in the season opener in Dallas. Davis has played just three other games and has been inactive four of the last five, including Sunday in Detroit. He joined the Giants last year as a rookie free agent from Chattanooga and played in 14 games with four starts.
The 6-5 and 302-pound Williams has never missed a game in his five NFL seasons, starting 70 of the 71 games in which he’s played, including 65 in a row. The only game Williams did not start was on Oct. 25, 2015 vs. New England in the sixth game of his rookie season.
Williams’ career statistics include 299 tackles (169 solo), 17.0 sacks, 90 quarterback hits, one interception, three passes defensed, and two forced fumbles. In seven games this season, he has 20 tackles (eight solo), five quarterback hits and one pass defensed.
“We are excited to have Leonard,” said coach Pat Shurmur. “He is a young yet very experienced defensive player who has the ability to make an impact against the run and the pass. In our system, he has the ability to play multiple positions on our defensive line. I have been impressed by how hard he plays every single snap. Everybody we spoke with talked about what a hard worker Leonard is and what a good teammate he is.”
Williams had his most productive season in 2016, when he was selected to the Pro Bowl and named the Jets’ MVP after he started all 16 games for the first time and recorded career-high totals of 86 tackles, 49 solos, 7.0 sacks, and both of his forced fumbles.
Williams’ name had been floated in trade rumors for several weeks. But that didn’t diminish the surprise when he got the news.
“I still was a little bit shocked because I got drafted there,” Williams said. “I know we have a new G.M. (Joe Douglas), so I knew it was still a possibility. Mentally, I was still preparing myself, but I didn’t know if it was going to happen or not. I also didn’t know it would happen with the Giants. I think that’s a big help not to have to go to a new city.
“I think it’s a transition. Any change is going to be a little bit of an adjustment. At the same time, I am excited, the guys seem happy to have me here. I’m obviously going to try to work hard and do as much as I can for people that want to have me around.”
Being traded to the Giants lessens the logistical challenge Williams faces this week.
“That definitely makes the adjustment a lot easier,” he said. “If I had to be traded, it makes it a lot easier that I don’t have to pack a bag and move to a whole new city overnight. I’m still right up the street, I don’t have to change my area code or anything like that. I came right down here this morning, just a quick 30-minute drive, I’m still in the same area, still in New York. That definitely helps the adjustment.”
Williams’ second game with the Giants will be against his former team. On Nov. 10, the Giants will be the visiting team when they face the Jets.
“I’m excited for it,” Williams said.