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NY Jets’ Will McDonald is in great company as he enters Year 2

Will McDonald, NY Jets, Edge Rusher, Stats
Will McDonald, New York Jets, Getty Images

A lack of playing time overshadows how good Will McDonald was in his rookie year

The New York Jets let two of their best pass rushers, Bryce Huff and John Franklin-Myers, walk out the door in the offseason for a combined return of a 2026 sixth-round pick. Huff and Franklin-Myers combined for 117 total pressures, 35 quarterback hits, and 13.5 sacks last season.

That is a hefty chunk of pass-rush production to replace. An NFL team would never allow that many pressures and sacks to leave the building for essentially zero return unless they had faith in their in-house solutions.

The Jets’ primary in-house solution is Will McDonald. They selected him in the first round of the 2023 draft with this exact scenario in mind – replacing outgoing veterans in 2024 after a year of development in a situational role.

Beyond his draft pedigree, it might be difficult to see any reasons why the Jets are confident that McDonald can be trusted to replace two proven quality edge rushers. A Google search of McDonald’s stat line won’t sell any jerseys: nine solo tackles, three sacks.

As Jets fans know, McDonald was limited to a minuscule role within the Jets’ stacked defensive line. He only played 99 pass-rush snaps (T-126th among EDGE) across 15 appearances. It’s difficult to rack up high-volume numbers in this role.

However, no matter how many snaps you play, you can always be judged on your efficiency in your role. And by this measure, McDonald’s career got off to a stellar start in 2023.

According to Pro Football Focus, McDonald registered a pass-rush win rate of 16.0% in 2023. This is outstanding for a rookie. In fact, since PFF began tracking the stat in 2006, it ranks as the seventh-best mark by a rookie edge rusher (min. 90 pass-rush snaps):

  1. James Houston, Lions (2022): 19.3%
  2. Josh Uche, Patriots (2020): 18.5%
  3. Aldon Smith, 49ers (2011): 17.9%
  4. Joey Bosa, Chargers (2016): 17.0%
  5. Carl Lawson, Bengals (2017): 16.7%
  6. Will Anderson, Texans (2023): 16.1%
  7. Will McDonald, Jets (2023): 16.0%

To narrow it down even further, McDonald had the fourth-best pass-rush win rate by a rookie edge rusher who was drafted in the first round. He only trails Aldon Smith, Joey Bosa, and 2023 classmate Will Anderson.

This is some inspiring company for McDonald to keep as he enters his second season.

Smith, the seventh overall pick in 2011, was on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory until off-field troubles ruined his career. Smith had 33.5 sacks over his first two seasons, including 19.5 in his second year. Bosa, chosen third overall in 2016, has 67 career sacks in 93 games. Anderson was the third overall pick in McDonald’s draft class and the first defensive player chosen. He claimed Defensive Rookie of the Year honors on the strength of seven sacks.

This is not to suggest that McDonald is guaranteed to match those players. Obviously, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison in many ways. Of the four players, McDonald played the fewest snaps in his rookie year by a wide margin, and the other three players were viewed as much better prospects going into the draft. McDonald has a long way to go before his name should be mentioned alongside those players in any conversation besides this extremely specific one.

The point is that many people are overlooking just how impressive McDonald was in his rookie year. His extreme lack of playing time made it difficult to notice what he was doing unless you were paying close attention, but on a per-snap basis, he was unusually consistent for a first-year player.

Heading into 2024, McDonald is further along in his development than it might seem upon first glance. The Jets’ faith in him is justified.

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