By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Pro Football
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Will McDonald was mainly focused on jump shots and layups as a high school athlete on the basketball courts of Wisconsin.
Football was secondary until his junior year. And he wasn’t even a Packers fan.
“But I was an Aaron Rodgers fan,” said the native of Pewaukee — a 20-minute drive west from Milwaukee — with a big smile.
And now the former Iowa State edge rusher will get to play with him in the NFL after the New York Jets selected McDonald with the 15th overall pick Thursday night.
“This kid,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said, “has elite ability to get after the quarterback.”
After devoting his focus and energy to football, McDonald developed into one of the college game’s most prolific pass rushers during his career with the Cyclones, racking up a school-record 34 sacks. That’s tied with former Texas Tech standout Aaron Hunt for the most in Big 12 history — one more than Von Miller had at Texas A&M.
McDonald tied the school career record with 10 forced fumbles and ranks second in Iowa State history with 42 tackles for loss.
And the lanky but speedy defensive end, listed by the Jets at 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, thinks he has plenty more to accomplish as a pro.
“I’m just going to try to get into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I don’t think I have a ceiling. I want to keep rising and I want to keep improving 1% every day and do whatever I can.”
He joins an already stout defensive line in New York, which includes All-Pro defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and ends/edge rushers Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons. The Jets also signed D-lineman Quinton Jefferson in free agency.
“You guys know how we are with our rotation and making sure that everybody touches the field,” Saleh said of the Jets’ D-line. “We come at you in waves. … With Aaron here, hopefully we’re playing with a few more leads and we’ve got a guy who can close the door on some offenses and get to the quarterback.”
McDonald became the first Iowa State player to be selected in the opening round of the draft since quarterback George Amundson went to the Houston Oilers 14th overall in 1973.
McDonald is also reunited with former Cyclones teammates in running back Breece Hall and wide receiver Allen Lazard.
“I actually talked to Breece this morning — and I had no idea,” McDonald said. “I’m back to being around my homies, so it’s a real good experience.”
The Jets originally held the 13th overall pick, but traded that in the package they sent to Green Bay to acquire Rodgers this week.
New York received Rodgers, the No. 15 pick and a fifth-rounder this year from the Packers for the 13th selection, a second-rounder and a sixth-rounder this year and a conditional 2024 second-round pick that could become a first-rounder if Rodgers plays 65% of New York’s plays this season.
The trade became official Wednesday, when Rodgers was formally introduced by the Jets at the team facility.
It was generally thought the Jets were targeting an offensive tackle, but there was a run on the position and the trade down for Rodgers likely cost them. After Ohio State’s Paris Johnson (No. 6, Arizona), Tennessee’s Darnell Wright (No. 10, Chicago) and Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski (No. 11, Tennessee) were taken, Pittsburgh traded up with New England and selected Georgia’s Broderick Jones one spot ahead of New York.
“We followed the board and let the board fall to us,” general manager Joe Douglas said.
Douglas also acknowledged the Jets received some calls about teams potentially trading up into the 15th spot.
“Ultimately, we felt good about where we were,” Douglas said, “and the player that was staring right at our face.”
The Jets had three first-round picks last year, when they took cornerback Sauce Gardner at No. 4, wide receiver Garrett Wilson 10th and defensive end Jermaine Johnson at No. 26. Gardner and Wilson and Gardner became the third teammates to win the offensive and defensive rookie awards in the same season.
McDonald’s selection marked the third time the Jets picked 15th overall, joining tight end Johnny Mitchell in 1992 and defensive lineman Ron Faurot in 1984.
“He’s going to be special,” Saleh said of McDonald.