$16 Million Youngster Has Bulked up, Expected to Break Out

Will McDonald, Jets

Getty New York Jets defender Will McDonald reacting after a play during an NFL game.

2023 New York Jets first-rounder Will McDonald was put on ice for much of his rookie campaign. However, in 2024 he is ready to break out.

Zack Rosenblatt of The Athletic said, “Will McDonald looks bigger and has shown some flashes in practice, winning most of his reps against backup right tackle Carter Warren. He was less successful against Tyron Smith. There was a rep in 11-on-11 late in practice where McDonald attempted his signature spin move (twice in one play, mind you) against Smith — it went nowhere. Smith continues to dominate his reps and it should be a good test throughout the summer for McDonald, who will play a bigger role in his second year. McDonald also had what would’ve been a tackle for loss against the first-team offense on a running play. (There is no tackling in these practices.)”

McDonald Made the Most of His Limited Opportunities With Jets in 2023

The former Iowa State product only appeared in 184 snaps on defense for the Jets this past year. That 19% snap participation is the lowest snap percentage by a Jets first-round pick since Vernon Gholston back in 2008.

Despite the limited opportunities, McDonald made the most of them. He recorded three sacks, a forced fumble, and registered four tackles for loss.

Joe Blewett of Jets X-Factor took fans behind the scenes with some advanced analytics to explain the impact McDonald had during his rookie campaign.

“On just 99 pass-rush snaps, McDonald was in on four sacks (two full, two half) while recording 12 total pressures. He added a forced fumble and a fumble recovery,” Blewett said.

McDonald is still under team control for at least the next three seasons on his $16.3 million contract. The Jets also have a fifth-year team option for the 2027 season.

McDonald, 24, will turn 25 years of age ahead of the 2024 season.

Analyst Predicting McDonald Break out in 2024

Brandyn Pokrass of Jets X-Factor listed McDonald among his “most likely breakout candidates” for this season.

After failing to receive a significant amount of snaps in 2023, McDonald is set for a significant uptick in 2024.

New York jettisoned veteran John Franklin-Myers this offseason in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Plus they let sack artist Bryce Huff leave in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles.

According to Pro Football Reference, there are over 1,107 combined snaps between the two veterans from 2023 that just became available. This should open up plenty of opportunities for McDonald to show why New York made him the No. 15 overall pick in the first round.

A large portion of those newly available snaps will likely be handed to Haason Reddick who was acquired via trade from the Eagles. He appeared in 862 (74% of the snaps) for the Eagles this past season.

“Surrounded by the likes of Haason Reddick, Jermaine Johnson, and Quinnen Williams, edge rusher Will McDonald has the surrounding pieces to help him succeed. These star defenders will draw attention away from McDonald, allowing him to take advantage of one-on-one matchups,” Pokrass explained.

When you combine the new snaps coming his way, the talent around him, and his own evolution it sounds like McDonald is in for a big season. Speaking with a few analysts around the league he should be able to at least double his sack production with an outside chance he could threaten for a double-digit sack season.

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