Before Leonard Williams solidified himself as a cornerstone along the New York Giants‘ defensive line, setting career-highs in both sacks (11.5) and quarterback hits (30) in 2020, the former No. 6 overall pick mostly served as a lightning rod for criticism.
Negativity engulfed Williams’ first season with the G-Men. Fans were initially puzzled by Dave Gettleman’s decision to trade for him in 2019 and ultimately enraged at the idea to double-down on the move by franchising him the following offseason.
With his approval ratings at an all-time low and questions regarding his legitimacy as a defensive anchor, Williams did what anyone would do in his situation — he picked up the hobby of spearfishing.
“My friends told me that ‘I guess spearfishing is how I can have a big year’,” Williams told Zack Rosenblatt NJ Advance Media back in December. “But it kind of is that way because it helps drown out the noise, re-center myself and know what I value.”
It’s been approximately one year since Williams started spearfishing. On the field, the returns have been grand. The 27-year-old is fresh off an All-Pro caliber campaign and just inked a well-deserved $63 million contract this offseason. In the water, he’s also enjoyed monumental leaps forward.
Over the weekend, he accomplished a new milestone in his spearfishing journey, catching his first-ever bluefin tuna. To celebrate, he took part in a common fishermen’s ritual by chowing down on the fish’s still-beating heart.
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Williams Talks Spearfishing
As for what his fellow Giants teammates think of his new hobby? “They think I’m crazy,” Williams told Rosenblatt laughingly.
While chances are this new clip likely won’t change many opinions in the Giants’ locker room as it pertains to Williams’ sanity, they likely won’t be fazed much as long as he continues to produce at a dominant level.
For a player who readily lived in opponents’ backfields throughout his career, but struggled to “finish the kill” per se, spearfishing looks to have had a blatant carry-over to the gridiron for Williams.
“The adrenaline kicks in when you’re actually on the hunt,” Williams noted. “You see a fish, you shoot it and then you have to go up to it and stab it after you shoot it.”
Williams Cracks ESPN’s Top-10 Interior DL Rankings
Williams’ brilliant 2020 performance has not gone fully unnoticed. While the California native was undoubtedly a Pro Bowl snub this past season, execs, coaches and players have clearly taken notice of the defender’s dominance, ranking him as the No. 7 interior defensive lineman in the NFL, via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
The most polarizing player on the list, Williams was labeled an underachiever before his 11.5-sack breakout in 2020 prompted a massive contract extension with the Giants.
‘He doesn’t know what he can be yet,’ said a Pro Bowl defensive player.
Added an NFC scout: ‘That combination of size and athleticism is just rare.’
The positional flexibility is a challenge for defenses. Williams can line up inside, or become the Giants’ best pass-rusher off the edge. But evaluators aren’t sure whether his breakout this past season is an anomaly.
‘Talented, just doesn’t put it together consistently,’ the NFC scout said.
One veteran NFL defensive coach said he ‘wasn’t sure what he was looking at’ when he evaluated Williams’ tape during the player’s tenure with the Jets.
‘Last year was not shocking based on ability, and my guess is he’ll have a similar year [in 2021],’ the coach said. ‘But it’s hard to tell with him.’
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