It wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if Leonard Williams winds up having the kind of career Richard Seymour did for the Patriots. And sack the haters whose noise sometimes goes in one ear hole and out the other.
And sometimes does not.
“I’m like tired of hearing all the hate and stuff like that,” Williams told The Post. “When it comes to that, it’s just like I’m already playing with a chip on my shoulder. I get hated on a lot when I feel like I know my game, and I know what I bring to the table. It sucks to see someone saying that you suck or something like that when you want to work for the respect, you know?”
Williams has earned as much respect this season as a $16.1 million player who is not viewed as a feared pass rusher possibly can. But when the Giants show up at FedEx Field to try to sweep the Washington Football Team on Sunday, the haters should be hushed.
The Big Cat is currently Big Blue’s King of Beasts, disrupting quarterbacks and offenses — and even enjoying the Joy of Sacks.
Just 26, he believes the best is yet to come. And he isn’t alone.
“Personally, I played better in my early 30s as a defensive lineman than I did in my early 20s,” Seymour told The Post. “I think he’s gonna hit his peak around 27 years old, and then he’ll hold that for maybe about five years.”
Williams, who was franchise-tagged before the season, hopes that he can wear No. 99 for the Giants in the prime years of his career.
“I love playing here. I love the guys on the team, it’s a young team, it’s cool to be able to grow and learn together. I love Coach [Joe] Judge, I feel like he’s definitely got this program moving in the right direction,” Williams said, “but we’re gonna have to see what happens at the end of the season. It’s a context year, and it’s a business, so we’ll have to see what happens when the time comes.”
When Williams came out of USC, he drew comparisons to Seymour. Both were long and rangy. Seymour was 6-foot-6, 310 pounds. Williams was 6-5, 302. Seymour was the sixth pick of the 2001 draft out of Georgia. Williams was the sixth pick, by the Jets, of the 2015 draft, out of USC.
Williams has recorded four sacks this season. His career high is seven. The Jets traded him last midseason for a third-round pick (which became safety Ashtyn Davis) and a 2021 fifth-rounder.
Seymour was a seven-time Pro Bowler, who only twice registered as many as eight sacks.
“Here’s the thing: I’ve never been a double-digit sacker,” Seymour said. “But at the end of the day, it’s not about sack numbers. It’s about offenses, coordinators, what do they think about him? How do offensive line coaches, or offensive linemen, what do they feel? Do they have to game plan for him? You can affect the game in so many other different ways. I think a lot of people get caught up into the numbers in terms of sacks, but it’s really about impact, and I think he’s been leaving his imprint on the game this season.”
Seymour (57.5 sacks over 12 seasons) trained and mentored Williams (21.5 sacks over 5.5 seasons) in Atlanta over the offseason and helped ingrain more of a dog mentality in him that Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and D-line coach Sean Spencer continue to foster.
“We just talked about attacking,” Seymour said. “Obviously I played in a 3-4 defense, and that was two-gapping. But at the end of the day, we wanted to take the fight to the offensive lineman. So it’s a difference between hunting and being hunted. We want to knock offensive linemen back and be nasty and be aggressive. These are all of the things that I think all great defensive linemen have in common.”
Williams has always been durable, always defended the run. He has made quarterbacks uncomfortable, just not as consistently as he has recently.
“I think fans are the ones who expect you to have double-digit sacks every year,” Williams said. “I know as a defensive lineman and especially as an interior lineman that D-tackles especially are not getting double-digit sacks every year. Aaron Donald is one of the exceptions, but he’s a freak.”
Williams is certain that the Giants are heading in the right direction, and certain that he is as well.
“I still love this game, I still have a lot to give to this game, and I definitely feel like I’m still improving,” Williams said.
It is evident that he is growing in confidence.
“When Coach [Bill] Belichick gives you the green light, so to speak, it just gives you confidence as a player that, hey, the best believes in me,” Seymour said. “And I just wanted Leonard to know that I saw so many great qualities in him that he reminded me of myself. And here’s the thing: I’m a straight shooter. If I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t tell him that.”
No one knows for certain whether Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who made the controversial trade for Williams, will be back next season. Or whether the Giants will still feel that the juice for Leonard Williams is worth an expensive long-term squeeze.
“People in the league want a big contract because of the respect that it shows you as a player,” Williams said. “I’ve never been like a greedy type of guy to say like, ‘Oh, I want money because it’s all about money to me.’ ”
If Joe Judge looks at Leonard Williams and sees the possibility of a Richard Seymour, Williams will get an offer he can’t refuse.
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