Within the deepest unit on the New York Jets’ roster, Will McDonald has stood out as a force on the edge
Talented players are abundant along the New York Jets’ defensive line. Acquired from various means, the Jets have built a unit that is considered one of the most feared units in the NFL, if not the most.
The Jets have a dominant force on the interior in All-Pro Quinnen Williams. He is surrounded by the likes of Al Woods and Quinton Jefferson, among others. Woods brings high-level run stuffing while Jefferson does the same for the pass rush. John Franklin-Myers rotates inside on third downs to boost the interior pass rush even further.
On the edge, the Jets are just as talented. Whether it is the power of Carl Lawson, the speed rush of Bryce Huff, or the dual threat of Jermaine Johnson, the Jets have various weapons to roll out against opposing defenses.
Among all of these talented players on the edge, rookie Will McDonald has already managed to stand out as a unique force for the defense.
McDonald, drafted 15th overall in this year’s NFL draft, was hailed as a pass-rushing specialist in college. Over his five years at Iowa State, the rookie edge rusher generated 114 pressures, accumulating 33 sacks and 16 quarterback hits.
McDonald’s dominance off the edge was not limited to his production in college, as he had an awe-inspiring performance at the Senior Bowl against other draft prospects. He then proceeded to bolster his draft stock with a great NFL combine performance; McDonald posted a 36-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot broad jump.
Despite the pass-rushing prowess and explosive athletic ability, there were concerns about McDonald as a prospect. These mainly revolved around his weight and ability to defend against the run.
McDonald’s usage in Iowa State’s defense emphasized these concerns. The Cyclones frequently played McDonald over the tackle (4i-technique). With McDonald only weighing around 240 pounds, he was consistently up against players much bigger than him.
Understanding the weaknesses of McDonald, the Jets decided to move him to a strict edge rusher role in their defense. In his first phone call with McDonald on draft day, Jets head coach Robert Saleh told the rookie, “We’ll get you out of that 4i and get you in that Wide 9, and get you firing off the ball and getting after the quarterback.”
In theory, the shift would allow McDonald to maximize his speed off the edge as a pass rusher while having a better chance to contribute against the run.
So far, the Jets are seeing the strengths of McDonald shine through in both practice and game action. The rookie has consistently flashed in training camp against the Jets’ offensive line, beating the tackles with his vast array of moves.
McDonald has maintained his success against opposing teams. Through two preseason games, McDonald has already generated six total pressures, including a sack and two quarterback hits. McDonald’s speed, length, and bend have been evident, as tackles are struggling to defend against him. Most impressively, he has shown off a lethal spin move in both games, leaving the tackle behind and allowing him to get to the quarterback.
#Jets first-round pick Will McDonald WRECKED the Panthers
On only 11 pass rush snaps, I counted 5 wins.
The rookie showed bend, explosiveness, and a dirty inside spin move that he continues to perfect. pic.twitter.com/Hs4mr5QkYC
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) August 13, 2023
McDonald has also contributed in the run game, cleaning up tackles when the other defensive linemen force the running back his way. While he has not been a critical contributor in this aspect of the game, he has not been a complete liability either.
With the continued progress of McDonald, the Jets coaching staff has been very complimentary of the first-round pick. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich spoke earlier today about McDonald, saying McDonald’s approach to the game has been “far beyond his years” and that he “does not present himself like a rookie at all.”
After the Hall of Fame Game, Saleh said McDonald has “got a lot to him” and “is going to be a good player.”
Even if McDonald is not a three-down player in 2023, the rookie should be a vital piece of the Jets’ defense as a situational pass rusher. His bend and athleticism off the edge have already been tough for defenses to handle, and his presence should open up opportunities for other defenders.
Up to this point, McDonald has been a force for the Jets off the edge. If the rookie edge rusher can carry his production into the regular season, the Jets’ defensive line will be firing on all cylinders and could have a chance to be even better than last season.