Jets First-Round Edge Rusher Ready for More Responsibility?

The New York Jets noticed growth from 2023 first-round DE Will McDonald during OTAs, but was it enough?
Aug 3, 2023; Canton, Ohio, USA; New York Jets defensive end Will McDonald IV (99) against the Cleveland Browns during the first half at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Aug 3, 2023; Canton, Ohio, USA; New York Jets defensive end Will McDonald IV (99) against the Cleveland Browns during the first half at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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It was essentially a redshirt rookie year for defensive end Will McDonald whether or not the New York Jets care to admit it.

After selecting Iowa State sack machine Will McDonald with the No. 15 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, New York deployed him for only 19 percent of defensive snaps over 15 regular season appearances.

“Rookies, they all struggle in some way or another. Some have more success than others, but they all will have an adjustment period to this League, just the rigors of it, the length of the season, the physicality of it, the speed of the game, all that,” said Jets’ defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich when asked about McDonald at the beginning of OTAs Phase 3.

Although his quickness and get-off were up to high-level standards, McDonald's physical frame was a little on the light side. Jets' brass declared that adding weight and power to his already-potent pass rush skills was the priority moving forward.

"He's got to add a lot of strength and power. He's got to add power to his football game," said Jets' fourth-year head coach Robert Saleh at the league meetings in late March.

Listed at 236 pounds on New York’s official roster, the 25-year-old McDonald showed up at OTAs looking improved but not yet a finished product.

“He's gotten stronger, it may not look it. He is a slight frame, that's his makeup, but you can see his strength,” said Saleh at last week’s mandatory minicamp. “We can't see all the physicality because it's a little bit more tempered, but with regard to Will, I think he's put in a good offseason. These next 40 days are big for him, and we'll see when pads come on.”

With the offseason program complete, the Jets are on a five-week break until training camp opens in July. It would bode well for McDonald, who has shown a “different level of focus, determination” according to Ulbrich, to continue improving physically during the off-period. Bryce Huff and Carl Lawson are no longer on board, and Haason Reddick is seemingly unhappy about his contract situation, suggesting McDonald's snap count is bound to increase in 2024.

“To see him now a little bit more settled, a little bit more focused, deeper understanding of what it takes to be successful in this League, I'm very excited for him,” said Ulbrich.

Over 184 defensive plays in 2023, McDonald totaled 3.0 sacks and five quarterback hits.

First-round defensive end Jermaine Johnson made a huge leap from sparingly used rookie to Pro Bowl selection in Year 2. Is it fair to expect something similar from McDonald?


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Ralph Ventre

RALPH VENTRE

Ralph, a former college football conference administrator, brings 20 years of media experience to the New York Jets beat. Prior to concentrating on Gang Green, he covered the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision for NFL Draft Bible on FanNation. Ventre remains as an official voter for the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 and the annual legacy awards. The Fordham University graduate is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. The veteran sports media professional resides in his native state of New Jersey.