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NY Jets’ Will McDonald pick screams ‘SOJ’ to rest of NFL

Joe Douglas, New York Jets
Joe Douglas, New York Jets, Getty Images

A day after the New York Jets took a huge step toward removing the ‘SOJ’ label, their selection of Will McDonald brought it right back

If the New York Jets wanted to take a step toward respectability across the NFL, this was not the way to do it.

The early first-round returns seemed to be promising. Through the first nine picks, only one offensive tackle had been selected. That was clearly the Jets’ plan all along.

Then, the wheels fell off, starting with the Darnell Wright selection at No. 10 to the Bears. The Titans followed it up with Peter Skoronski at the next pick, and the Jets brass likely began to panic. Just when the pick got to No. 14 and they thought they could settle down, the Steelers leapfrogged the Jets and took the fourth tackle, Broderick Jones.

This clearly left Joe Douglas in a panic—a panic he may have brought on himself by trading down from No. 13 to No. 15 in the Aaron Rodgers deal. While Jets fans screamed for Jaxon Smith-Njigba or would’ve been satisfied with Calijah Kancey or even Nolan Smith, Douglas manned the phones.

In the end, he didn’t just take one of the best players available at a position of need; he reached tremendously. Will McDonald IV was No. 33 on the NFL Mock Draft Consensus Big Board for several reasons: he will already be 24 years old at the start of the season, signaling that he is near his ceiling as a pass rusher, and he is just 239 pounds, which plays oddly for a 4-3 defensive end.

Many Jets fans were shaking their heads and scrambling to find an upside to the pick after it happened. The rest of the NFL just laughed: these are the Same Old Jets.

A huge reach

The Jets have made some bad draft picks over the years. They’ve had high picks in recent seasons who did not work out. However, they have not taken this kind of reach in the first round in a number of years.

Consider the Jets’ last seven years of first-round picks compared to their consensus big board spots.

The biggest reach among those was Vera-Tucker in 2021, which was magnified somewhat by the fact that the Jets surrendered two third-round picks to get him. However, it was still only six spots ahead of where he was ranked, and the Jets did desperately need a guard.

This year, the Jets reached up 18 spots to take a player that they did not really need. They already have 2022 first-round pick Johnson, Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Micheal Clemons, and Bryce Huff on the edge. While some analysts may insist that it’s better to select a player a year early than a year late, that only applies if there aren’t other glaring needs and it is at least a mostly appropriate draft slot.

Seth Walder of ESPN said it best.

All the analysis done both prior to and during the draft suggested that McDonald was a major reach. Besides the consensus big board, here is what ESPN’s probability estimator suggested about McDonald’s availability.

Douglas claimed that there were conversations about trading out of the slot, but McDonald was the top edge rusher on the Jets’ board.

Although this is highly speculative, that is not the vibe coming off Douglas and Robert Saleh in their post-pick press conference. Their body language does not suggest an elated duo. The fact that they drained most of the clock before making their pick further points to a team that was outgunned for the offensive tackles they really wanted and then left stranded and panicking.

There is another interesting nugget here which, while not a definitive knock on the Jets’ draft tendencies, does say something about their evaluations compared to those of the rest of the league.

This one tweet explains what most of the league believes about the Jets’ selection of McDonald.

If that doesn’t scream “SOJ,” nothing else does.

It should be Rodgers first

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought in Tom Brady, they made sure they had elite talent on the offensive side of the ball, starting with the offensive line. By contrast, the Jets’ offensive line consists of a severely underperforming veteran (Laken Tomlinson), an average veteran whom they clearly wanted to move on from until his price came down to dirt cheap (Connor McGovern), a tackle who has not started a game in two years (Becton), a 38-year-old tackle coming off rotator cuff surgery (Duane Brown), and one stud coming off a torn triceps (Vera-Tucker).

Meanwhile, while their receiving corps isn’t bad and does have a true No. 1, it does not have the one-two thump of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, nor anything near Rob Gronkowski at tight end. Breece Hall, possibly the offense’s biggest difference-maker, is coming off a torn ACL and cannot be expected to be as dynamic immediately upon his return.

This was the time to protect Rodgers. If it couldn’t be offensive line due to an early run on tackles, Jaxon Smith-Njigba fell right into their laps. All they had to do was take the best receiver in the draft and turn their receiving corps from good to potentially elite. Just as Ja’Marr Chase elevated Joe Burrow’s game to another level despite a weak offensive line, Wilson and JSN together could have done the same.

Rodgers put up with a team that did not protect him for a long time in Green Bay. Reaching for a defensive player rather than taking the top receiver available is not a great way to help him win.

The Jets seem to be relying on Rodgers to do it all on his own, assuming that they can count on him to gain leads that they can then retain. Douglas and Saleh made reference to this.

This is placing a massive amount of pressure on a quarterback entering his age-40 season. Quarterbacks who manage to prolong their careers usually do so by virtue of their supporting cast. Rodgers is seemingly expected to carry the load on his own. He has never been a quarterback to do that, though; in fact, 2022 demonstrated what can happen to him when he is not adequately supported.

Jets’ defensive philosophy

Jermaine Johnson played around 30% of the Jets’ defensive snaps last season. There is a conceivable situation in which McDonald could play even less than that.

The fact that the Jets rotate their defensive line so heavily makes this pick even harder to understand. If they had selected a defensive tackle (such as Kancey), at the very least the Jets’ interior defensive line room is thin, which would mean that the rookie would likely get more reps. The Jets already went five-deep at edge, though. There are simply not enough snaps to go around.

Perhaps the Jets will release Lawson, which would open up snaps for McDonald. That would free up $15 million in cap space, killing two birds with one stone. However, with the way Saleh spoke about Lawson at the owners’ meetings in Arizona, that does not sound all that likely. He seemed to indicate that the Jets intended to keep Lawson around as long as his body holds up.

Now, maybe that was before the run on tackles happened at the draft. It could be that the Jets will shift their stance. Maybe they’ll try to trade Lawson and get something in return, although his value is not that high due to his large 2023 salary.

Another alternative is that they plan on shifting Franklin-Myers to the interior defensive line a lot more than they did in 2022. JFM dominated as an interior pass rusher in 2020 and is a Kancey-style tweener. Perhaps the team decided to take advantage of their own taller Kancey rather than drafting one. Although JFM only played about 33% of his snaps inside last year, if the Jets increased that rate a lot, it would open up edge snaps.

However, considering Franklin-Myers’ Twitter response to my article explaining that the Jets correctly deployed him on the edge, that doesn’t seem to have been the plan.

Again, it could be that the Jets will pivot, but it doesn’t seem likely. That means that the Jets likely just used a first-round pick in an all-in year on a player who may not play more than one-third of the time.

Nothing against McDonald

Jet X’s Vitor Paiva had tweeted prior to the draft that the Jets should try to acquire the edge rusher with the most bend. Despite posting good sack numbers as a team in 2022, the Jets’ overall pressure off the edge was not consistent.

NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein, among others, said that McDonald is the bendiest edge rusher in the draft. On that note, the pick would seemingly make sense. McDonald’s explosiveness is reminiscent of Bryce Huff’s.

However, just as Huff is not a three-down player due to struggles against the run, McDonald enters the NFL with the same concerns. His NFL.com draft profile lists edge-setting and maintaining leverage in the run game as his two biggest weaknesses. Do the Jets intend to give McDonald a shot to play on every down when they didn’t give it to Huff? That seems highly unlikely. If anything, Johnson, last year’s first-rounder, is more likely to see increased snaps due to his excellent edge-setting, which gives him more baseline competence than McDonald has.

Given McDonald’s speed and bend, it is likely that he will make a difference for the team on some level. It is simply highly questionable whether that will be enough to justify a reach at No. 15.

Having a plan

The Jets are far from the only team to make a head-scratching decision on Day 1 of the draft. From the steep price the Texans made to move up to No. 3 and select Will Anderson, to the selection of two running backs in the top 12 by sub-.500 teams in 2022, to the reach for Jack Campbell at No. 18 by Detroit, there was no shortage of surprises.

That being said, the Jets will need to play their cards right through the rest of the draft and the rest of the offseason to silence the critics and ease the concerns of fans. If the team trades Lawson and indicates a plan to use JFM inside at a higher frequency, that would help the McDonald pick make more sense. If they select Dawand Jones in the second round and fill out their other needs with their remaining picks, perhaps the first-rounder looks a little better.

Until then, the Jets will still be an underdog looking to prove the doubters wrong. That is perpetually where they have been in the last half-century. Acquiring Rodgers was supposed to help change that, but it has not done so to the extent that some might expect.

The Jets could have made a first-round pick to further their legitimacy in the league. Instead, they continue to search for it.

Follow Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord

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Jets71
Jets71
1 year ago

I’m so tired of the “big board’ stuff. They can still draft an OL not every OL is a 1st round pick. You said they reached for Hall last year….hmmm. Led the league in yards from scrimmage when he got hurt and the offense wasn’t the same without him.

I have no problem that you don’t like the pick, but the idea Joe was caught off guard is preposterous.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jets71
JC2533
JC2533
1 year ago

Afternoon,

You want me to believe Joe was a stooge, because Ross said so?

You bought that tweet.

Maybe I made a mistake reading this article.

Maybe you and Ross know something I don’t know.

Hope you get the movie reference……

In any event, isn’t that Darnell Wright, the 10th overall pick last night, and 2nd tackle chosen, getting smoked by McDonald in that video from the senior bowl practice?

I also saw Clay Matthews RAS scores along side McDonald, and they were very similar, so maybe they plan to use him a little differently then expected.

In addition, I’ve read that he played college in a 3-4, lining him up inside the tackle, which hampered his ability to achieve bigger stats.

He may also be deployed late in games to put more pressure on the QB, and close out games.

He did have a tendency to create turnovers (fumbles), so that could be a game changer, sorta like a closer in baseball, who is brought in to shut down the offense.

Trust me, this was not who I was thinking (Kancey), but it also serves the same purpose, which was speed on the defensive line.

I know that you are defending the big board and stuff, but as Jets fans have seen in the past, with the likes of Vernon Gholston and Dewayne Robertson. it can also be wrong too.

I would like to take a more wait and see approach before I am ready to throw the GM and coach out of a helocopter.

Time will always tell who was right in these matters.

Enjoy the rest of the draft and the upcoming weekend!

Last edited 1 year ago by JC2533
Robert Papalia
1 year ago

Agree with everything you said. The Jets need to do everything they can to protect Rodgers. They did not do this with their first pick. If this continues Rodgers will be one and done with the Jets. And by the look on Saleh and Douglas face last night they know that. Woody please sell the team. You are out of your league.

Rich
Rich
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Papalia

Good luck. JD has yet to put together a competent OL in 4 years.

Jim G
1 year ago

I think Noam’s analysis may turn out to be correct, but I cannot imagine 2024 was what they had in mind when picking McDonald, not when the Jets are supposedly “all in” for ’23.

In reality, I think the Jets we caught off guard when the Steelers traded up and they had no fallback plan. They had less than 10 minutes to figure out what to do, either trade back or select a different player. They chose to draft someone they weren’t expecting to pick with No. 15.

We should keep in mind that the Jets are frequently described as having an “elite” defense. The stats may bear this out, but I do recall a defense that, too often, couldn’t get off the field on third down and surrendered a few late game leads. If my recollect is correct, maybe McDonald was a solid pick. Time will tell.

mlesko73
mlesko73
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Say what you will about the pick being a reach, but the proposition that the entire Jets draft war room had not prepared for the possibility that one of the top four OT’s would not be available and was “caught off guard” is absurd

mlesko73
mlesko73
1 year ago

I, being ever the optimist, see the biggest point in this article as being contained in the graph showing the Jets’ “reaches”. It says “no consensus” beside the names of Jermaine Johnson and AVT. This tells me that, like almost every other metric regarding the draft, it’s a crap shoot. The fact that the media had no consensus for either player tells me that ratings are at best unreliable.
If this kid turns out to be Micah Parsons (I can’t even tell ya where Parsons went to school) then it’s brilliant. If the pick was made with other moves to come it may also be brilliant.
That said, the rest of this draft had better be about the offensive line!

Jets71
Jets71
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

He was used inside last season at ISU

Rich
Rich
1 year ago

As JD’s tenure lengthens, more and more we’re seeing he is a gambler. He’s constantly swinging for home runs and is willing to live with the strike outs and pop ups. It’s been mixed. One all-time draft in 2022 is surely keeping this ship afloat. Let’s hope this ’23 draft is a good one, b/c his other 3 were legit top to bottom terrible.

I’m still miffed at how badly JD played his hand with GB, getting a worse FRP, losing a SRP this year, a FRP next year, and paying all of AR’s $59M. No one wants to rain on the parade, but he could’ve had GB by the balls had he signed a viable QB (like MWhite) before negotiating with GB, then flipped him after the deal. Nah, let’s announce to the world we are AR or bust and have no backup QB plan. GB must’ve been counting their lucky stars.

Jets71
Jets71
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

People are giving Joe credit because the team doesn’t stink anymore.

ronmel@optonline.net

Can’t make it up. SOJ!
Granted the top 4 OL were already gone but Douglas had every single bluechip WR staring him in the face but instead he reaches for 23-year-old Edge Rusher (MacDonald) most experts had as an early 2nd rounder. One has to wonder if Saleh has some kind of hold over Douglas who appeared to be desperately trying to trade down as the clock was ticking away. You have to feel for Rodgers as he watched this poor decision making from his GM & HC unfold for all to see. The best Jets can hope for at No 43 is coming away with one of the top three centers Steve Avila (G/C), Tippmann and Schmitz.

Psi
Psi
1 year ago

Wow…the way folks are responding it sounds like the “fill in the blanks” rookie Tackle would have been the savior of the offense. Also, is it possible that the team’s board differs from the media consensus…how could that be? I’d love for once to see the media go back and analyze their boards and mock drafts a year later to see how much they got it right. All that to say that in my world drafting an Edge rusher is mostly a good thing. It seems clear to me that a trade back was likely preferrable but not possible last night. I too would have preferred Skoronski (the only Tackle worth it at that spot imo) or a receiver, but to jump to the “SOJ” meme is catnip for those that reflexively use the term anyway.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

Many thoughts, most of which I am trying to believe, but if I’m being honest I just share Rivka’s dismay and I’m just posting to make myself feel better.

Noam’s post below, about this being a pick for 2024, makes a lot of sense. Add to that injury insurance for 2023, and add to that the Jets intend to keep their identity at all costs. They are an attacking front that makes it miserable for QBs, and they’re not going to be caught short staffed there. I think this is simply the explanation. Shore up your strengths, dictate the action to play your style, and you win. That’s what JD & Saleh are thinking, and that’s what this pick is about.

But, more optimistically–could the Jets be intending to add a twist to the scheme? I don’t know if this can work and I am genuinely asking, can the Jets use MacDonald all-over like their Micah Parsons? Is there a plan in the works where they have packages for MacDonald and Whitehead at linebacker? A scenario where Huff, JFM, Q, Lawson and MacDonald are all on the field at the same time is exciting to me. I don’t recall them blitzing with Quincy or Kwon last year, and I don’t think Mosley was very effective. Maybe this pick is about blitzes, and maybe it’s about how they intend to use that third linebacker spot.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

OK, my bubble is burst.

But I’m not going to beat the Jets up and label this as all about 2024. The Jets brass has a philosophy, they’ve given this team a certain identity, and they believe this is how they win games. All it would take is an injury to Lawson or Huff for that identity to be severely compromised, and I imagine they believe they need to be prepared for that. You and I might think they’re putting too many resources to this concept, at the expense of others, but I will admit I’m at least glad they have conviction.

I don’t see the same sort of conviction when it comes to protecting their own quarterback, but maybe the evidence of that is still to come. As it is, they have their five starters. Maybe the guy they want is Cody Mauch, who could be the first man in regardless of who gets injured. Or maybe they want a guard, with the idea that if a tackle goes down AVT moves outside. Hopefully we’ll see soon.

Noam
Noam
1 year ago

This pick looks all about 2024. With Huff and Lawson both possibly leaving in 2024 this pick looks about next year. Have McDonald add some weight this year and be ready for next year. Strange in a year that is all about winning now. But, I think that is the way the draft played out. A very weak draft where no one wanted to offer anything of value to trade up. Obviously the Jets did not seem to value anyone at this pick. It appears they tried to trade down but could get nothing. I wold have preferred JSN, Myers, Kincaid, Kancey, Campbell,or Flowers but for whatever reason the FO did not seem to value these players. Hopefully round 2 will be more exciting.

Losing Broderick Jones just reinforces how much I hate the deal the Jets gave up for Rodgers.

Noam
Noam
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

That is a really good point about Pittsburgh possibly moving to 12. The price for moving up was really low this year due to the 1st round being so weak so they likely could have not paid much. The question is would Detroit have been willing to drop that far back? I have read where some people have said there were only 10-15 players with 1st grades this year which explains a lot of the reaches in the last half of round one. I can’t say I am thrilled with the move. I would rather load OL and playmakers but I respect the FO and Nania’s article today about McDonald’s win rate in true pass sets made me feel better about the pick.

Where do you see us going in round the next 4 picks Rivka? Any chance we take that bigger than Becton RT from OSU?

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago
Reply to  Noam

And this is why I was kind of hoping the Jets would just wait until they were on the clock at 13 before trading for Rodgers. I didn’t get any support for this admittedly unorthodox idea, but I had a theory that the 13th pick alone could’ve been enough for Green Bay, based not on the value of the player they would draft, but the value of the PR that came with the pick. That is to say the 13th pick, depending on what happens in the first 12, might hold more value for Green Bay than it ever could for the Jets. Cash in on that.

In this alternate universe, if Jones was there, the Jets just took him, but if Pittsburgh did jump to 12, then the Jets turned around and traded 13 straight up for Rodgers. They might’ve still gotten McDonald at 42.

Five years for Lukas Van Ness on a rookie deal, Rodgers off the books, and a clear path for Jordan Love. Yeah, the I think the Packers do that.

Noam
Noam
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

I read that the trade needed to be done earlier than the draft because Rodgers contract needed to be reworked (to give GB cap relief) prior to the trade and he could not be traded under league rules until 24 hours after redoing his contract. Under this report a trade while on the clock would have been more difficult.

Last edited 1 year ago by Noam
Jets71
Jets71
1 year ago
Reply to  Noam

Bergeron, Freeland, Mauch are all possible. Maybe they get a shot at Tippman. There are still plenty of OL available, people are talking like the draft is over after 1 round.

Jets71
Jets71
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

You don’t know that JSN or Kancey would be able to play know. It’s all projection. There have been plenty of 1st round WR’s to bust or even take a couple of years to make an impact. The fact that he lasted until 20, in a draft where the CONSENUS was there were only 15-17 first round talents tells me taking a 2nd round talent at WR at pick 15 would have been a major reach.

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