The NY Jets raised quite a few eyebrows with their selection of former Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Many questioned where McDonald would fit in on a roster loaded with pass-rush depth.
As it turns out, McDonald wondered that as well.
ESPN's Rich Cimini reported on Sunday that McDonald's lack of playing time as a rookie "caused extreme frustration" from the young pass rusher at times. Cimini insisted that "it got to a point where he wondered if the Jets were the right fit."
McDonald played just 192 defensive snaps for the Jets in 2023 — the fewest offensive or defensive snaps among all first-round picks in his draft class. It also marked the fewest snaps a Jets' first-round pick had played as a rookie since Vernon Gholston in 2008.
McDonald's frustration is understandable, but rather than sulk and complain, the 24-year-old "hit the reset button" and is focusing on getting himself in the best shape possible ahead of the 2024 season.
The NY Jets have high hopes for Will McDonald in 2024
Cimini noted that McDonald has "vowed to crush the offseason," as evidenced by the fact that he's already back at the Jets' facility in Florham Park working out. His goal is to put on substantial weight.
McDonald finished the season at just 237 pounds, but his plan is reportedly to work his way up to 250 pounds by the start of next season. He's hoping to follow in the footsteps of teammate Jermaine Johnson.
Johnson similarly struggled to find consistent playing time as a rookie (although he did play more than McDonald) before being elevated to a starting role in 2023. He responded by putting together a Pro Bowl season.
McDonald's presence could be even more important if the Jets let Bryce Huff walk in free agency, as many expect the team to do. The Jets drafted McDonald (and Johnson) partially because they expected to move on from Huff and Carl Lawson after the season.
Huff's breakout 2023 campaign may have changed those plans, but if the Jets still believe in McDonald as a long-term building block, that might offer them an incentive to let Huff walk.
McDonald was moderately productive as a rookie, recording three sacks and a 12.1% pressure rate that ranked third among all rookies in 2023. That provides some optimism for what he could do with an expanded role.
Will McDonald went through his fair share of rookie frustrations, but the former Iowa State star appeared locked in and ready to break out in 2024. Here's to hoping his effort off the field is rewarded with more snaps on the field.