3 NFL player comparisons for NY Jets rookie Will McDonald

NY Jets, Will McDonald
NY Jets, Will McDonald / Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets surprised many people with their selection of Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Many expected McDonald to be more of a fringe first-round prospect, but the Jets felt comfortable taking him in the top 15.

That's because the team remains confident that McDonald possesses the elite traits and potential to become a cornerstone of the Jets' defense in the future. They're not alone, either.

One of the most fun (and perhaps reckless?) parts of draft season are the pro comparisons identified for prospects. Every year, NFL prospects get compared to some of the league's top players, and McDonald is no exception.

This isn't to say that McDonald will have the same careers as these players, but it does suggest that his skill set is reminiscent of a few individuals already in the NFL.

Which players did analysts label as McDonald's NFL comparisons? Let's have a quick look at three such comparisons.

Which NFL players are NY Jets defensive end Will McDonald most similar to?

Randy Gregory - NFL.com

NFL.com's draft profile for McDonald compares him to former Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory. Gregory has had a bit of a rollercoaster career in the NFL to this point, but his talent has never been in question.

While Gregory has never amassed more than six sacks in a single season, there's a reason the Denver Broncos handed him a five-year, $70 million contract last offseason. The NFL knows just how talented he is.

Like McDonald, Gregory was an undersized but supremely athletic edge rusher coming out of Nebraska. McDonald measured in at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-4, 239 pounds, while Gregory stood 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. McDonald and Gregory also posted very similar vertical jumps and had nearly identical arm lengths.

Gregory was little more than a situational pass rusher during his time in Dallas due to the Cowboys' stacked defensive line rotation. That will likely be the case for McDonald as well, at least early in his career.

Yannick Ngakoue - Bleacher Report

Bleacher Report's pro comparison for McDonald is former Pro Bowl edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue has probably been one of the more overlooked and underappreciated pass rushers in the NFL over the last seven years.

The former third-round pick has quite literally never had a season with fewer than 8.0 sacks. For someone who's played for five different teams in seven seasons, that level of consistency is pretty absurd.

The comparison between McDonald and Ngakoue makes some sense. Both players excel more as pass rushers than run defenders and have elite first steps. That same explosiveness that Ngakoue shows is definitely present in McDonald's game.

That said, McDonald is a bit longer and probably more athletic than his veteran comparison. Ngakoue also weighed over 10 pounds more than McDonald at the NFL Combine. Still, if McDonald puts together a career like Ngakoue's, the Jets should be very pleased.

Brian Burns - Robert Saleh

This is probably your ceiling for Will McDonald. Jets head coach Robert Saleh compared McDonald not only to Randy Gregory but also to Carolina Panthers star Brian Burns when speaking to reporters after the first round of the draft.

A first-round pick of the Panthers in the 2019 NFL Draft, Burns has developed into one of the league's best young pass rushers. He's coming off a career year in 2022 that saw him finish with 12.5 sacks en route to his second straight Pro Bowl appearance.

Like McDonald, Burns is an elite athlete who wins with explosiveness and length. He's probably a bit more well-rounded than McDonald at this stage, but it's easy to see why the Jets made this comparison.

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I think McDonald is a tier below Burns as an athlete, but that's more of a comment on Burns than McDonald. The Jets would be ecstatic if McDonald developed into the star that Burns is today.