Leonard Williams made a bold claim in training camp when he set his sack goal for this season at one in every game, but the lofty aspiration wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Williams was coming off his first Pro Bowl. He’d shown considerable improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. If Williams stayed on the field and produced, 16 sacks seemed, at minimum, within reach.
The 2017 campaign, though, hasn’t unfolded as Williams envisioned it would. Entering a Week 13 home matchup with the Chiefs, the former No. 6 overall pick boasts just 1.5 sacks and will miss his mark by a wide margin, barring some miracle quarterback-crushing run over these final five games.
Yet Williams is not disappointed. He’s actually satisfied with his performance — and for good reason. A deeper look at the statistics shows the versatile 6-5, 291-pound defender has been a force this year. He’s tied for eighth in the league in quarterback hits through 12 games with 19. Considering the amount or pressure he’s putting on opposing signal-callers, the low sack total is a complete head-scratcher.
“It doesn’t eat at me, because I know sacks are the stats that the fans want to see, but as a defensive player, it’s about being disruptive,” Williams said this week. “And if you’re getting to the quarterback and hitting him and causing him to throw incompletions and causing him to be uncomfortable in the pocket and causing him to scramble and look at the rush instead of looking down the field, that’s what a good pass rusher does. Get to the quarterback. Make him uncomfortable.”
Of the eight other players with at least 19 quarterback hits this season, none have fewer than five sacks. The group is averaging 9.44 sacks. The Cowboys’ Demarcus Lawrence, who dropped Kirk Cousins behind the line of scrimmage twice Thursday night, leads the league with 13.5 sacks. He only has 20 quarterback hits on the season. (A sack counts as a quarterback hit.)
The Vikings’ Everson Griffin has the same number of quarterback hits as Williams, but he’s tied for second in the NFL with 12 sacks.
Jets defensive end Leonard Williams only has 1.5 sacks this season.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)
“I wouldn’t call it too frustrating, because like I said, at my position, it’s all about disruption,” Williams said. “And just knowing that I get that many hits, I know I’m affecting the quarterback and I know that I’m still doing my part. But at the end of the day, everyone likes to see those sack numbers, so it is frustrating when you’re getting to the quarterback that often and they just don’t always turn into sacks. You just got to keep going at it and just hope that some of them will get there.”
Williams’ QB hit-to-sack ratio is even surprising on a historical level. The NFL first started tracking QB hits accurately in 2006. Since that point, there have only been three individual seasons, including 2017, in which a player recorded 19 or more QB hits and finished with three of fewer sacks.
Williams is responsible for two of those three seasons. As a rookie, Williams logged 21 quarterback hits and totaled just three sacks. Now he is replicating the statistical anomaly. (Last year, Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson finished with 23 quarterback hits and two sacks.)
“Damn!” Williams told the Daily News Friday when informed of the stat.
“I can’t control it,” Williams said. “I’m obviously doing my part. I’m getting there. I’m getting to the quarterback. I’m hitting him. It’s just, the ball gets out that split second (earlier) that you need sometimes. I also could take part in that. I could work on things that could help me get to the quarterback that split second faster. So that’s probably what I’m going to have to keep working on.”
Added Todd Bowles: “Leonard’s doing a heck of a job.”