Jets’ Sauce Gardner Sounds Off on Unexpected Will McDonald Selection

Will McDonald

Getty Iowa State pass rusher Will McDonald IV at the 2023 NFL Combine.

The New York Jets shocked everyone when they selected Iowa State pass rusher Will McDonald IV at No. 15 overall in the NFL Draft.

Fans were mostly baffled by this selection — which disregarded both team needs and draft rankings — but Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner was among the calming voices telling everyone to trust the process. “Will McDonald is a dog!” The young star sounded off on Twitter. “Our defense just got better❕”

The Jets social media team also quoted draft expert Daniel Jeremiah after the selection, who scouted that “Will McDonald has the best bendability of any pass rusher in the draft.”

NFL Insiders, Jets Brass Explain Will McDonald Pick

After the pick was announced, CBS Sports NFL insider Josina Anderson relayed what she heard on why the Jets went with McDonald at the 15th spot in the order. “League source, briefly on why Jets selected Will McDonald IV at pick #15,” she informed. “Elite rusher, unique ability to bend, elite length.”

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero added that McDonald is “one of the most fascinating players and freakiest athletes in the draft [and is] off the board sooner than expected.” Not long after, head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas explained the selection themselves.

“It’s a passing league. If you can put the head of the snake on the ground — which is the quarterback — it doesn’t matter what type of skill players you have, it doesn’t matter what you have from an offensive perspective, if the quarterback can’t throw the ball it won’t matter,” Saleh detailed. “And this kid has an elite ability to get after the quarterback.”

Douglas also told reporters that the Jets front office drafted him because they “feel like he’s one of the most dynamic pass rushers in this draft” — per The Athletic’s Zack Rosenblatt.

Speaking of McDonald’s skillset, NBC Sports and SNY draft analyst Connor Rogers chimed in with a quick scouting report. “McDonald has freaky pass rush tools – and goes to a defense that will allow him to play in attack mode as a rookie, definitely some Randy Gregory aspects to his game,” he relayed. He also linked the former Cyclone’s Relative Athletic Score of 9.66 out of 10.

Rogers did call him the 27th best prospect in the draft, however, and admitted that he felt it was a “baby reach” at No. 15.

As for an NFL comp, Saleh used Gregory as well — same as Rogers — but the Jets HC also noted that his ceiling could be as high as star pass rusher Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers. The Green & White now have the following players at edge rusher heading into the 2023 season:

  • Carl Lawson.
  • John Franklin-Myers.
  • Jermaine Johnson II.
  • McDonald.
  • Bryce Huff.
  • Micheal Clemons.
  • Bradlee Anae.

Will McDonald Was a Turnover Machine at Iowa State

During a mock draft on April 11, ESPN scouting expert Mel Kiper Jr. highlighted McDonald as a turnover machine.

“The McDonald stat I love most? He had 10 career forced fumbles,” Kiper praised. “He gets to quarterbacks but also understands how to create turnovers. (Will Anderson Jr. had just one forced fumble in his career at Alabama.) McDonald is an explosive player with a high ceiling.”

NFL Network scouting pro Lance Zierlein added that McDonald is “an explosive, pliable edge talent whose active hands and eager feet make it hard for tackles to get a firm grip on him.”

“His burst and lower-body flexion give him an advantage at the top of the rush, while his spin moves and feel for pocket depth round out his attack,” Zierlein continued. “He has good strength for his size and plays with admirable contact balance against bigger players, but setting firm edges and holding his ground against a downhill running attack could be an issue.”

The analyst concluded that “overall, McDonald’s hard-nosed demeanor and pass-rush talent are winning play traits that will help him become a successful 3-4 outside linebacker and sack artist.”

He will likely compete with Huff, Johnson and Clemons for snaps in 2023.

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