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2024 Combine

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Top Athletes Can Be Found Early & Late in the Draft, as Jets Showed Last Year

Edge Will McDonald (15th Overall), TE Zack Kuntz (220th) Put Up 'Freaky' Numbers at Combine, Pro Days

Iowa State defensive lineman Will McDonald IV runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

A lot goes into the construction of any NFL team's draft class in a given year. And a lot goes into the selection of each and every player who serves as a sturdy plank in the building of that class.

One of the ways draft-eligible candidates are evaluated is by their athletic testing at the NFL Combine, the 2024 edition of which opens this week in Indianapolis, and at their college pro days.

And the Jets' 2023 draft, as it turned out, began and ended with selections who put up numbers that helped them become new members of the Green & White last year and possibly into the future.

Will McDonald IV out of Iowa State was the first selection, 15th overall, of general manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and their staffs a year ago. A big factor in the selection was the way he racked up sacks for the Cyclones — 34 in all, tied for the most career sacks in Big 12 history.

As for the athletic measurements, McDonald (6-3, 236) filled the bill there as well. He participated only in the jumping drills at the Combine, the vertical leap and the broad jump. And his 11-0 broad jump was an eye-opener, tying for the Combine's best among all front-seven invitees.

Then at ISU's pro day, McDonald stood out again, particularly in two timed events. He turned in the 5-10-5 legs in the 20-yard shuttle in a crisp 4.22 seconds. And in the 3-cone drill, which measures change-of-direction explosiveness and hip flexibility, he sped to a 6.85-second time.

Even adjusting those times downward to more closely match pro-day to Combine times, McDonald's 4.24 and 6.93 would have placed him among the top three among all draft-eligible front-seven candidates in both drills.

"We're excited to add Will to the team," Douglas said on draft night. "We feel like he's one of the most dynamic pass rushers in this draft, if not the most dynamic. I think that was on full display at the Senior Bowl. Not to speak for the coach, but he's going to be humming off the edge, using all that God-given length and speed."

Times and distances tail off as rounds go by in the draft, and in the Jets' case, players like second-round OL Joe Tippmann and fourth-round T Carter Warren didn't test at the Combine due to rehabbing college injuries. By Round 7, it's rare to find a Combine "freak," as Douglas might call him. But that's what the Jets indeed uncovered in TE Zack Kuntz, the 220th overall selection out of Old Dominion.

Kuntz, a Penn State transfer, not only brought his towering 6-7⅜, 251-pound frame with him to Indy but also some crosstraining prowess. He was first among tight ends in the vertical (40-0), broad jump (10-8) and 3-cone (6.87 seconds), tied for first with 23 bench reps, and placed second in the 40 (4.55) and 20 shuttle (4.12). His shuttle was fourth-fastest and his 3-cone tied for sixth among all Combine participants last year, and his broad jump tied for eighth among TEs since 2006.

"Zack tested through the roof," Douglas said. "We were sitting there at the top of the seventh round going through guys that had that freak factor, and to me, he was right at the top."

The Jets drafted other freaky football players over the years. A far-from-complete list of recent Combine/pro day top performers, which we highlighted in last year's 10 Top Combine Performances by Athletes Before They Were Jets, includes TE Dustin Keller (2008), WR Santana Moss (2001), QB/WR/KR Brad Smith (2006), RB Breece Hall (2022), LB Darron Lee (2016) and FB Tommy Bohanon (2013).

Who will board the Jets fresh off of athletic excellence at this year's Combine? We'll start to get a hint beginning Thursday, when the defensive linemen and linebackers kick off the testing inside Lucas Oil Stadium. But we won't know for sure until this year's draft concludes with the final pick of Round 7 on April 27 in Detroit.

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