Will McDonald has come a long way. After starting his football career with a few practices and games as a sophomore at Waukesha North (WI) HS school, McDonald starred at Iowa State before being selected No. 15 overall by the Jets in April's draft. This afternoon, McDonald (23) signed his first professional contract.
"I was a receiver for one point and at one point at practice he [Coach Matt Harris] lined me up against our first-string tackle," McDonald said. "I relied on my basketball skills, hit bro with a little Euro step and end up getting past him. We just figured out I was a pass rusher."
Harris would go on to earn a scholarship at Iowa State and the pass rusher made history in Ames, tying the Big 12 career record with 34 sacks and tying a school record with 10 forced fumbles. Of his 123 career tackles, 34.1% of his stops went for a loss.
Last season, the Jets' 45 sacks ranked tied for seventh in the NFL. McDonald joins an edge group that also includes Carl Lawson (7 sacks), John Franklin-Myers (5 sacks), Bryce Huff (3.5 sacks), and two 2021 draft picks in Jermaine Johnson (2.5 sacks) and Micheal Clemons (2.5 sacks)
"Ultimately, we followed the board, let the board come to us and we're very excited to add Will to the team to a very, very deep and explosive pass rushing unit," said Jets GM Joe Douglas.
McDonald (6-4, 236) became the first Cyclone to be taken in Round 1 of the draft since George Amundson was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1973. He has rare athletic traits and lettered both in track and baseball in high school. He won a state title in the discus and finished third in the high jump. At this year's NFL Combine, McDonald had an 11-0 broad jump, which tied for best among all D-linemen. That followed up a strong pass-rushing performance by McDonald in Mobile, AL, at the Senior Bowl.
"Feel like he was one of, if not the most dynamic pass rushers in this draft," Douglas said. "Great combination of skill, production and athleticism. I think it was on full display at the Senior Bowl and all throughout his career games. Fired up to add him to a strong unit and keep adding to the line of scrimmage."
In 2020, McDonald's 10.5 sacks led the Big 12 and tied for first nationally, and he added 13.5 TFLs. In 2021, McDonald broke his own single-season sack mark as his 11.5 sacks tied for the Big 12 lead. His 5 forced fumbles also tied for the most in school annals. A first team All-Big 12 performer last season, McDonald had 7.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 5 sacks.
"He's going to have to learn how to bring power, work with leverage and he did a lot of it," said Jets HC Robert Saleh of McDonald. "You look at his Iowa State tape, he played a lot of 4i where he's head up on an offensive tackle, so he's got the power to stand in there. Just learning our technique, our stance, our alignment, the angles at which we play and the get off. Not overly concerned about him learning all that stuff. And again, just to add an elite pass rusher, because at the end of the day, getting the quarterback on the ground is a premium. When you're sitting there at pick 15 and you feel like you have your best pass rusher staring at you in the face — I think it's just an easy decision."
McDonald is the Jets' ninth draft choice out of Iowa State in franchise history and comes to Florham Park one year after RB Breece Hall was selected in the second round. The Jets also signed WR Allen Lazard, a fellow Cyclone, in free agency after a five-year run with the Packers.
"I got Breece here and Allen," McDonald said. "I got my Cyclone boys and I'm just happy to be here. I'm happy to learn and I'm happy to do my thing."
With ink dry on his first NFL deal, McDonald, who used to ride a unicycle in high school and jump over cars and SUVs, will be well-equipped to take any form of transportation off the field. On the field, the Jets hope he'll keep the heat on opposing quarterbacks.