Florham Park, N.J. - Leonard Williams had one total tackle less than Muhammad Wilkerson last season. The only difference between the rookie and Pro Bowl selection is that Williams had nine less sacks than Wilkerson.
"I got to the quarterback a lot last year, but it was just hits," Williams said. "Those aren't the stats I'm looking for; I want to get sacks."
Williams was once thought to be a top-2 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, but fell into the laps of the New York Jets sixth overall. He got a lot of work his rookie year, getting a lot of time due to Sheldon Richardson being suspended the first four games. Once Richardson came back, Williams saw less time, but not much.
"There's definitely pressure for any first-round pick," Williams said about being drafted in the top 10. "People are going to have high expectations for you and expect you to live up to those expectations."
The big difference that Williams had in college to now in his second year in the NFL is that he can't rely solely on his strength and athleticism. That could work in college, where he was far superior than the competition. In the NFL, however, it's the best of the best and there will be players bigger and stronger.
"He's physically capable of being one of the better defensive lineman in the league," said defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
Luckily, Williams learned from vets such as Wilkerson and Richardson. Wilkerson and Richardson combined for 99 tackles and 17 sacks. Both are pro bowl defensive ends and are considered around the league as threats. This season might be tricky in which there are two spots and three high caliber players.
"Last year [Wilkerson and Richardson] were helping me out a lot," Williams said. "One thing I noticed is that they're pretty consistent in coming to practice and just working on something everyday."
From year one heading into year two, Williams has been working hard in preparation for training camp. "I've been doing a lot of work during the offseason on my pass rushing," Williams said. "I was working out at USC for strength and conditioning, but I was also working out with one of my old coaches, Pete Jenkins." Along with his old coach a few former teammates from college, they would simulate an offensive line and work on their pass rushing.
Again, a main concern for Williams is his statistics. He had a lot of quarterback hits, but was just seconds short of getting the sack. Head coach Todd Bowles knows that it's not all about the numbers. "Even quarterback hits are sometimes just as good as sacks whether they cause turnovers or rattle a guy and cause incompletions."
When asked about whether or not he was happy with his performance last season, Williams refuted with a simple answer: "I just have high expectations for myself."