The edge defender class is likely the unquestioned strength of the 2023 NFL Draft class. Not only are there a lot of very talented edge defenders in this year’s draft class, this is a historically athletic group of pass rushers, too.
Ordinarily, if a team wants to get a difference maker at the edge position, the athletic premiums on the position demand that they select one in the first round. However, this group of pass rushers is so deep and thoroughly talented that we could see real difference makers drafted into the second day.
Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV’s draft stock could be incredibly volatile, and there’s the possibility
His athleticism and upside could make him a fringe first rounder. But on the other hand, he was likely miscast in Iowa State’s defense and his lack of size could drop him down some team’s draft boards.
The EDGE position hasn’t been widely discussed as a potential need or target for the New York Giants in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, it’s been a long time since the Giants were able to make quarterbacks’ lives miserable by sending waves of athletic pass rushers after them.
The top of the Giants’ depth chart is very good at the edge position, but the depth left something to be desired. Could McDonald be a target for the Giants if the value is right?
Games Played: 48
Tackles for a loss: 40.5
Forced fumbles: 10
Passes defensed: 7
Games Played: 12
Tackles for a loss: 7.5
Forced fumbles: 1
Passes defensed: 4
Best: Length, burst, fluidity, leverage, play strength, football IQ, versatility
Worst: Mass, aggressiveness, production
Projection: A rotational edge defender with potential starting upside in a multiple defense
(McDonald is Iowa State DE/EDGE number 9)
Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV has a great blend of length, athleticism, and fluidity to be an edge defender at the NFL level.
McDonald has a long, lanky edge at 6-foot 3 ⅝ inches and 239 pounds, but with nearly 35-inch arms. He has the burst and bend that’s expected of a player with his build, but his (relatively) slight frame belies some impressive play strength. McDonald typically aligned as a down defensive end in Iowa State’s 3-3-5 “stack dime” or “Air Raid Killer” defense. He most commonly played the 4i or 5-technique in their 3-man front and only rarely lined up as a 7 or 9-technique defensive end or rush linebacker. As such, he routinely took on much larger offensive tackles in heads-up situations, and frequently had to deal with guard-tackle double teams.
McDonald has a very good first step, reacting quickly to the snap and firing off the line of scrimmage with good burst and very good leverage. He has a flexible lower body, which allows him to play with good pad level throughout the rep. He also does a very good job of playing with good extension and using his long arms to let him get his hands on tackles first and seize inside leverage. McDonald’s understanding of leverage allows him to maximize his play strength and hold up against offensive linemen and set a firm edge against blockers who have 60 or 80 pounds of mass on him.
McDonald isn’t a dominant run defender, but he is a disciplined and savvy one. He understands how to take half-man leverage and use his whole body to attack one side of an offensive lineman, negating their size advantage. His length and hand usage also allow him to keep himself clean and prevent linemen from locking in their blocks. McDonald is good at using his quickness and length to shed and make plays off of blockers, as well as scrape laterally down the line of scrimmage in pursuit. More often, his job was to hold blockers while the linebackers and defensive backs flowed to the ball.
He didn’t get many opportunities to be a pure pass rusher in the tape viewed. But when he did, McDonald flashed upside off the edge. His first step and burst make him an immediate threat as a pass rusher, and he shows a good understanding of how to win over time. He has a solid variety of pass rush moves that take advantage of his length and athleticism – namely a rip move, swipe, long-arm, spin, and speed-to-power bull rush moves. McDonald seems to rush with a plan and is aware enough to set blockers up before attempting to beat them with a counter move.
That said, he can also be a bit too disciplined at times.
McDonald doesn’t consistently accelerate into the backfield and work to gain ground on the second and third steps of his rush. Likewise, he can hesitate and take an extra second to confirm his reads when faced with misdirection or option plays. He’s quick to retrace and get into pursuit, but the slight hesitation can cause him to miss making plays.
McDonald’s size – or lack thereof – will keep him from appealing to every team. He might be able to add a bit more mass at the NFL level, but he won’t be able to get up to prototypical weight for an EDGE without compromising his athleticism. Teams that value size and power in their front seven players will want to look elsewhere.
McDonald will also need to learn how to deal with particularly savvy blockers who try to use his leverage and pad level against him. He can be pushed to the ground when gets too low when trying to be the “low man”. He can also be tripped at the top of his rush, or when navigating the traffic around the line of scrimmage.
Overall Grade: 7.3
Will McDonald IV projects as a rotational edge defender in a “multiple” defense.
His experience as a down defensive end and as a stand-up rusher gives him some schematic versatility, but his ceiling is likely highest when allowed to be a modern “EDGE”.
McDonald was likely miscast as a down defensive end in Iowa State’s 3-man front, and that makes his projection a bit tricky because, well, there’s an additional layer of projection involved. McDonald’s best football is likely still ahead of him, and he could blossom into a disruptive player if he was allowed to rush from a 7 or 9 technique defensive end position or move around the formation as a stand-up rusher. He would likely be more productive if he was able to take on tight ends, as opposed to guard-tackle double teams.
There’s a certain amount of risk involved whenever you have to project a player to a scheme that isn’t common in the NFL. However, McDonald should have a pretty high floor thanks to his football IQ and discipline. He might not make many plays to start his career – at least not until he gets comfortable attacking into the backfield – but he is unlikely to actively hurt your defense, either.