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Improving young NY Jets defender had sneaky impact in Giants win

Will McDonald, New York Jets
Will McDonald, New York Jets, Getty Images

On a very limited snap count, the New York Jets’ first-round pick managed to impact and perhaps turn the game

With the 15th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the New York Jets [J-E-T-S] select Will McDonald, linebacker, Iowa State.”

Those were the words of pumped-up Jets fan and Wish kid Kyle Stickles at the draft. As revving as Stickles’ announcement was, the actual name was a major letdown for most Jets fans. Will who?!

Despite the training camp hype that had many fans changing their minds, McDonald has been a disappointment so far this season. He has one pressure and has barely made a blip on the radar screen. That’s a far cry from the third-down pressure machine the Jets envisioned from him as a rookie.

Still, McDonald has played just 66 defensive snaps so far, including 41 as a pass rusher and 25 in run defense. He has an opportunity to turn things around over time as Jermaine Johnson has after a slow start this year. For fans who may already be thinking “bust” in their minds, consider that McDonald didn’t play football until his junior year of high school and is also still only 240 pounds. Johnson bulked up and built muscle over the 2023 offseason, and McDonald will likely try to do the same after the season.

Against the Giants, though, McDonald showed glimpses of his talent and ability to impact a game beyond just the pass rush stats. He played only eight defensive snaps in the game, but he made several of them count. He also had a sneakily underrated play late in the game that may just have allowed the Jets to come back and win.

Defense

McDonald made a few nice plays that weren’t really visible on the screen or in the box score.

With the Giants pinned near their own goal line, McDonald made a play on first down. Going against Giants tackle Justin Pugh, he knifed his way into the backfield and got to Saquon Barkley to limit the gain to two yards. The play generated negative EPA, which is considered a run stuff by some standards.

On the second down play, McDonald didn’t do anything flashy. Going against a tight end, he wasn’t able to gain penetration. Still, he held his spot and was not knocked backward, forcing Barkley to cut to his right. Barkley gained four yards on the play, but McDonald did his job.

This may be one of the reasons that McDonald is not generating much pressure: only 17 of his 41 pass rush reps have been considered true pass sets. That means that on 58.5% of his pass rush snaps, teams are running screens, play-action, or very quick releases.

On this play, McDonald beats Tyre Phillips around the edge, albeit not entirely cleanly. If the ball hadn’t been released so quickly, he would have hit Tommy DeVito along with Tony Adams. It likely was considered a true pass set (it doesn’t seem like the release was in under two seconds), but there just wasn’t that much opportunity for McDonald to get home unless he had won the rep completely cleanly.

Although McDonald needs to learn how to defeat the tackle’s hands more quickly (this angle doesn’t give a good picture of what exactly happened with the hand-fighting), he showed his ability to come around the corner and still get to the quarterback.

Special teams

With the Jets trailing 10-7 with 28 seconds remaining and Graham Gano lining up for a game-sealing field goal, Robert Saleh and Brant Boyer knew they needed a miss to have any shot. They pulled out a trick from up their sleeve: lining up Will McDonald right in the center of the field goal block team. It was the first snap McDonald played all season on an opponent’s field goal attempt.

As he was likely coached to do, McDonald leaped right over the long snapper and got in Gano’s face. It’s hard to say that this definitively impacted the missed kick, but it certainly could have been a factor. Especially considering that McDonald was slightly to Gano’s left and he missed the kick to the right, it definitely appears that the kick hooked a bit because McDonald was there.

In fact, considering McDonald’s bend and athleticism, the Jets may want to try using him more often on field goal blocks.

McDonald still has a long way to go

The Jets thought McDonald would be a closer for them on defense. That has not been the case thus far.

Still, just as they’ve done with Johnson, it might behoove them to try to use McDonald creatively. Putting him in the center of a field goal block setup is one way to utilize his athleticism. Moving him around the formation might be another option.

Overall, though, in very limited reps, McDonald made an impact on the Giants game. It’s the first time we’ve really seen that from him, and it’s a start at a position that is often difficult for a rookie.

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mlesko73
8 months ago

I have every confidence that WMD will become an effective disrupter for us in the future.
Like Max Mitchell, he needs to gain some size and strength while also learning technique.
DE is the deepest position on the Jets, the fact that we are shopping Carl Lawson and have moved Clemons inside (to little effect) tells you that it would have been v difficult for WMD to crack the lineup for a high percentage of snaps.
Patience, grasshopper, patience

Matt Galemmo
8 months ago

I don’t believe WMD distracted or disrupted Gano, but I do believe there was a fair chance he deflects a kick that is on target. Too bad for him it didn’t happen that way; I understand some random Cleveland Brown did something similar and did get a block, and now he’s a star.

Surely WMD will become every bit as good as Myles Garrett.

Matt Galemmo
8 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Really? I would expect kickers work hard to block out any and all distractions, and trust the line to do it’s job.

But certainly I don’t know.

Matt Galemmo
8 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I know that 99 out of 100 times you’re going to be right, but I’ve thought about this more and this is my one time. I’m going to try and change your mind.

We don’t see field goals blocked often, but it happens. When we see them blocked, we don’t see the kicker trying to kick it around a defender. They kick it right into the outstretched hand. We just saw it with Myles Garrett.

What we see far more rarely is a kick the seems to have been diverted because of an on coming blocker. That’s just a super rare occurrence.

And what we see most of all, if we include punts we see this is pretty much every game, is a kick that just missed getting blocked where the kicker did nothing at all to try and avoid it. They just kick the ball as if no one’s there.

Observation shows us the kickers ignore the incoming rush, make their kick, and most of the time manage to avoid blocks even if by just a few inches.

In the case of field goals, what would even be the point? If you try and kick it around a defender, the likelihood of making that kick plummets dramatically. To make the kick it’s far more likely that the ball manages to elude the defender purely by luck than you try and angle it differently.

It also makes sense from a mental standpoint. Kicks are the outlying play in that they really aren’t defended. Blocks are very rare. It’s just the kicker, the snapper/holder, the goal posts, and the elements. I have to believe they zone everything else out.

Finally, I’ve never heard of kickers practicing kick around defenders, have you? If they don’t practice it, they’re not likely to be expected to do it in a game.

Would JetX consider asking Thomas Morstead? I really want to know now.

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt Galemmo
Rich
8 months ago

Nice observation Rivka, I didn’t even notice WMcDs leap over the center. That sure did look disruptive to Gano’s kick. Excellent job Boyer and 99

Last edited 8 months ago by Rich
Peter Buell
8 months ago

Listen I’m rooting for McDonald but the way the NFL Financials are set you need something positive in year one.
Let’s hope it comes in the 2nd half.
I was ok with the pick but it seems now any 1st or top 2nd round lineman would have been better.
It’s not just the Jets. O-Linemen do down so often they need a separate practice squad just to have enough bodies to put out there.
It’s sickening a promising season can be flushed with so many injuries to players who don’t often move a yard from the line of scrimmage
They either get thier cletes stuck in the turf or twist a leg with 650 lbs of football players on top.

Jonathan Richter
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

There simply weren’t any worth taking. JD went D Line in the 1st round and O line in the 2nd and back to O line in the 4th.

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