Jets take defensive lineman Leonard Williams with No. 6 overall pick

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Friday, May 1, 2015

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For the fourth time in the last five years, the New York Jets used a first-round choice on a defensive lineman, selecting formerUSCstar Leonard Williams with the sixth pick in Thursday night's NFL draft.

General manager Mike Maccagnan said he was "kind of surprised" that Williams, regarded by many as the top player in the draft, fell to the Jets. Williams, too, said he was surprised, mostly because he didn't expect to be picked by the Jets, who have a surplus of defensive linemen.

Their first-round picks on the line were Muhammad Wilkerson (2011), Quinton Coples (2012) and Sheldon Richardson (2013).

The addition of Williams raises questions about the future of Wilkerson, who is entering the final year of his contract and is skipping voluntary workouts. Before the draft, the Jets fielded calls from at least two teams interested in trading for Wilkerson. That interest should increase.

The Jets are expected to listen to offers, a league source said Thursday night.

"Right now, Muhammad is on our team," Maccagnan said after the Williams pick. "We're not going to speculate. We're not going to actively shop Muhammad at this point. Right now, he's a part of us."

Asked if he hopes to sign Wilkerson to a long-term extension, Maccagnan said, "I hope so."

Maccagnan, running his first draft, picked Williams after having exploratory talks with the Tennessee Titans, who held the No. 2 pick. Maccagnan said they never got serious because the Titans were seeking "a very large offer" for the pick, which they eventually used to select quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Contrary to speculation, the Jets weren't interested in Mariota, sources said. They stayed at No. 6 and watched as Williams fell into their laps. He was one of the top three players on their board, according to Maccagnan.

New coach Todd Bowles wore a poker face to the post-pick news conference, but he was thrilled to add a player of Williams' caliber.

"I'm excited," he said. "I know it doesn't look like it on my face, but I'm really excited."

Williams took a pre-draft visit about two weeks ago, during which time he got a sense from the Jets they'd pick him if he fell. Still, it caught him off guard.

"It was a big surprise to me," he said. "When the pick was on the line, I thought they were going to go for someone on offense just because the Jets are already known for having such a great defensive line. I was really surprised, but also very excited."

Bowles said he clicked with Williams on the visit.

"Obviously, his play speaks for itself," he said. "But when we got him here, just to meet the young man and see how mature he was and how full of life he was ... the great attitude and the passion to play football, that connected with me."

Williams, who turns 21 in June, was a three-year starter for the Trojans. He recorded 21 sacks and 36.5 tackles-for-loss, establishing himself as arguably the top defensive player in the draft.

Despite the numbers on the defensive line, Bowles said he has no plans to switch his scheme; they will play a 3-4 front. The starters last season were Richardson, Wilkerson and nose tackle Damon Harrison, with Coples as the rush linebacker.

"You can never have too many defensive linemen," Bowles said.

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