Thursday night's epic battle of the 2-12's on the NFL Network showcased two teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans, that will be picking toward the top of the NFL draft. If Williams decides to declare for the draft, which he should, these teams will be in position to take Leonard Williams, should they so desire.
Obviously, just because a team can pick Williams doesn't mean they should. Williams is an extremely athletic, versatile player who could make any NFL team better were he on their roster. But in trying to predict Williams' landing spot come next spring, you'd have to think that teams like Tennessee and the New York Jets are out of the mix due to more important issues at quarterback.
After looking at every team who could pick toward the top of next draft, here are the landing spots that make the most sense (in order) for Big Leonard Williams:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Gus Bradley obviously already has Blake Bortles at quarterback. Bradley is also a defensive-minded guy, and Leonard would be a perfect fit within Jacksonville's front.
The Jaguars put 330-pound Red Bryant at defensive end in their base package, and Williams is essentially Bryant on steroids (not literally, but you get it). Williams is a thick dude with wide shoulders and long arms who can set the edge and hold his own at the point of attack. Oh, and he can also two-gap quite effectively. He is seriously an incredible run defender.
Add to that Williams' athleticism, which is much more than Bryant's ever was (no knock on Bryant, who is a very solid player and was a part of a phenomenal defensive unit on Seattle's 2013 Super Bowl championship team), and Williams is essentially Gus Bradley's dream.
Williams' athleticism means he can also kick inside and rush the passer in sub-packages. Alongside Sen'Derrick Marks, the defensive line would be an absolute terror for opposing offenses. Jacksonville would be my favorite team to see Williams go to, but their win over Tennessee Thursday night means that this likelihood decreases since they will now be farther back in the draft order.
Speaking of farther back, it's hard for a defense (and team) to be much worse than Oakland's has been in recent memory. I would love to see the havoc that Leonard Williams and Khalil Mack would impose on opposing backfields together. Williams reminds me a bit of the 49ers Justin Smith, and he could open up more than a few rush lanes for Mack much in the same way Smith does for Aldon Smith on tackle-end stunts.
Oakland likes what they see in Derek Carr, who has definitely shown flashes of brilliance and has probably been this year's best rookie quarterback, and thus would pass on a quarterback like Jameis Winston in order to take Williams. The Raiders could also go after Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, which would make sense, but there's no doubt that d-line is a need for them, especially with veteran guys like Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley and Antonio Smith playing on short-term deals.
Washington is a team that needs help everywhere, but they are likely to stick with RGIII for at least one more year. Williams would probably be the best player on their defense from day one, and would be a key cog on a team within a division with Dallas' offensive line and Philadelphia's running game. Williams along with Barry Coefield, Jason Hatcher, and Ryan Kerrigan would make up one of the better front sevens in all of football.
Williams, as I've previously mentioned, is also an extremely versatile player because of his length and athleticism, which is key for Washington since they will more than likely have a new defensive coordinator next season who could bring in a totally different scheme than the 3-4 they run now.
Williams will probably be gone by the time Chicago and their five (and counting) wins picks, but this is an obvious fit. The Bears' run defense is abominable, and Williams would help solidify that right away. Also, much like Washington's defensive coordinator predicament, Williams' versatility should be noted.
Defensive tackle isn't Tampa's biggest need, but improving the defense should be one of Lovie Smith's overall top priorities for next year. Getting Williams in there as a guy who is good enough to move all around the line, whether it's the one-technique (can you imagine Williams and Gerald McCoy side-by-side?!), defensive end (in a kind of "big D-end" role like Red Bryant plays in Jacksonville), or spelling McCoy at three-technique, Williams can play and help out that run defense from the very beginning.
This selection lies under the assumption that Smith acquires a quarterback like Jay Cutler instead of drafting Marcus Mariota -- Smith may feel that his defense, with superstars Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David in their primes, is ready to win sooner rather than later, and he therefore would rather go with a veteran at quarterback rather than a rookie.
Or maybe not. Either way, Williams would make a noticeable difference on this team from the start.
The Giants too will probably pick too late to get Williams. But he would be a welcome addition to a surprisingly solid unit that is a good run defense away from being one of the better in the league (games against Seattle, Dallas, and Philadelphia exposed New York's porous run defense). Pair Williams with Jonathan Hankins, and that would be one of the best one-two defensive tackle punches in the entire NFL.
Leonard Williams isn't a perfect player right now. He still isn't the best pass rusher (although he does have the ability to be pretty darn good; his role at USC may have confined him in that aspect), but his strength and length make him an elite run defender. He length and speed in the open field as well as his ability to chase plays down from the back side remind me of J.J. Watt (yes, I think Williams is that good), but his quickness off the line is where that comparison differs for me.
Like I mentioned earlier, his strength and body type might make a Justin Smith comparison a little closer. Either way, Williams is one of, if not the best prospect in the 2015 draft. He has no off-the-field issues, and every team would benefit from having Big Leonard on their side.