The New York Jets were stunned Leonard Williams was still available when they went on the clock for their first draft pick.
So, general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles jumped at the chance to add another big playmaker to their formidable defensive line. The Jets selected the defensive lineman from Southern California with the sixth overall pick Thursday night.
"I don't think any mock draft had Leonard going beyond (No.) 5," Maccagnan said shortly after the Jets selected Williams. "Like, literally, none."
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Williams will team with fellow first-rounders Muhammad Wilkerson (2011) and Sheldon Richardson (2013) on Bowles' front line that also includes solid nose tackle Damon Harrison.
"It was a big surprise to me," Williams said during a conference call from Chicago, where he was attending the draft. "Knowing that it got to the Jets and their pick was on the line, I thought they were going to go for someone on offense because the Jets are already known for having such a great D-line."
Maccagnan talked to other teams — including all five in front of the Jets — about possible trades, but New York stayed put and took a player whom many considered the best overall talent in the draft.
"We gave it the full allotment of time to see what teams would call and inquire," Maccagnan said. "At the end of the day, we never really got any offer to move out of the pick that we felt good about."
Williams said when he met Bowles during the draft process, the coach told him that the Jets would pick him if he was still somehow available when the team went on the clock.
"He stayed (true) to his word," Williams said. "I appreciated that."
Maccagnan revealed that Williams was among the top three players on the Jets' board and said the other two — without naming them — had already been selected.
"We were kind of surprised he actually fell to us," Maccagnan said. "He was too good a value for us to pass on at that point in time."
The selection marked the sixth straight season the Jets have taken a defensive player with their first pick. It's also the fifth time the Jets had the sixth overall pick, and first since they took defensive end Vernon Gholston in 2008.
Williams, who turns 21 in June, had 218 career tackles in college in 35 starts, and routinely caused problems for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators with 21 sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
"He has a huge ceiling," Maccagnan said. "He's just scratching the surface."
Williams' ability to play either at end or tackle made him an attractive option for the Jets, who will mostly run out of a 3-4 base defense under Bowles but will tailor that depending on the opponent.
"I think it's really cool to be coming at such a young age and as a rookie to have such great D-linemen to model my game after," Williams said.
Williams had surgery on his right shoulder after his sophomore season with the Trojans, but said there are no issues with it. He played every game last season, although he didn't do any lifting at the NFL combine.
"That hasn't been a problem for me, or even a question," Williams said.
The Jets attended his pro day at USC, and then brought him to the team's facility for a visit.
"Obviously, his play spoke for itself," Bowles said. "But when he got here, just meeting the young man and seeing how mature he was, and how full of life he was and the great attitude he had and passion for playing football, that kind of connected with me."
Both Maccagnan and Bowles insisted that the decision to take Williams would not have any bearing on the future of Wilkerson, who has been sitting out voluntary workouts while waiting to get a new deal. Wilkerson is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and could be in for a big payday.
"Right now, Muhammad's on our team," Maccagnan said. "I'm not going to speculate. We're not actively trying to shop Muhammad."
The Jets certainly have good depth on their line now with the addition of Williams, who was selected as USC's Most Valuable Player and Defensive Lineman of the Year after his junior season. He was also a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, and a finalist for the Hendricks Award, given to college football's top defensive end.
Williams, who lives in Daytona Beach, Florida, said his family was hoping he'd go to a Florida-area team so he could stay closer to home or a California team since he was born there and played his college ball there.
"Either way, going to the Jets, they're so proud of me," Williams said. "It was really exciting to see them put on their Jets hats and to see all of those guys in green and white, it was pretty cool."