For all of the talk about Aaron Rodgers and the Jets' offense, it's easy to forget that Gang Green should have one of the NFL's best defenses in 2023. That unit, which was fourth in the NFL in points allowed last season, will be further bolstered by the addition of Will McDonald IV, the team's first-round pick who has been turning heads during training camp.
McDonald came to New York after a stellar career at Iowa State, where he tallied 34 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, 125 tackles and 40.5 tackles for loss. His success in college has carried over to his first training camp. McDonald, lined up at defensive end, won his individual matchup on consecutive plays during the Jets' final scrimmage period on Sunday.
"He's got all the freakish ability," Jets coach Robert Saleh said, via the team's website. "He can win with speed and can counter inside, but until you get those tackles playing a little bit more heavy-footed because they're afraid of your power and all that stuff won't matter, so he's learning that aspect of it, but I'm excited."
Saleh's quote conjured up memories of arguably the greatest rookie season a defensive end has ever had. McDonald was born in 1999, the same year Jevon Kearse was drafted by the Titans one spot from where McDonald was drafted 24 years later. Kearse terrified opposing quarterbacks that fall to the tune of 14.5 sacks, a league-high eight forced fumbles, nine pass breakups and a defensive score. His play helped the Titans capture the AFC title.
McDonald, who like Kearse is 6-foot-4, would surely love to have a similar rookie season while playing inside a defense that finished seventh in the league in sacks last season. But Saleh isn't going to ask him to be Superman.
"We have about as deep of a D-Line group as you can have in ball," Saleh said. "Aside from the quarterback, defensive line, I'll argue, is one of the hardest positions to produce in your first year. … He has a chance to go find himself this year and figure out who he is and learn some new techniques."
And figure it out McDonald has. While he's anything but a finished product, McDonald has been a quick study during camp. McDonald himself has said that he has "greatly improved from when I got here, up to now."
McDonald will get a chance to showcase his growth on Thursday night, when the Jets face the Browns in the annual Hall of Fame Game.
"I don't have a lot of thoughts, but I am excited," McDonald said about Thursday night. "I am going to approach it the same I do every game and the same that I do every practice. Come out there pumped and execute and do my job."