Jets need Year 2 leap from Will McDonald with Bryce Huff’s potential departure

If free agent edge rusher Bryce Huff does sign elsewhere this offseason, the New York Jets are going to need 2023 first-round pick Will McDonald to make that Year 2 leap to help fill the void Huff may leave behind.

Behind only Quinnen Williams, Huff finished second on the team last season in pressures with 67 and was first on the team with 10 sacks, according to PFF. League-wide, Huff’s pass-rush win rate of 22.9 percent ranked third among all edge rushers in 2023, behind only Micah Parsons and Myles Garrett.

PFF is projecting that Huff’s next deal will be for three years, totaling $50 million at $16.67 million per year, with $35 million guaranteed. The Athletic’s Dianna Russini reported that Philadelphia could “aggressively pursue” Huff in free agency.

Although I’m sure the Jets would love to have Huff back, relatively speaking, they are somewhat limited in cap space and have several bigger needs than edge rusher, such as addressing the offensive line, receiver, and safety.

If Huff is playing elsewhere in 2024, then a big jump from McDonald will be a must.

As a rookie, McDonald played only 17 percent of the Jets’ total defensive snaps. In part, this was due to the depth that the Jets had at the edge rusher position in 2023, with Huff, John Franklin-Myers, and Jermaine Johnson all ahead of McDonald on the depth chart, as was Micheal Clemons.

We also saw the Jets take a similar approach with Johnson during his rookie season in 2022. Johnson would play only 27 percent of the defensive snaps in his first season but made a big jump in 2023, playing 66 percent of the snaps while totaling 56 pressures, the third-most on the team.

In his limited action, McDonald was quite efficient in getting after the quarterback, totaling 12 pressures on just 99 pass-rush snaps, three of which turned into sacks, while also forcing a fumble. McDonald would rank 29th out of 198 eligible edge rushers in pass-rush win rate.

“Feel like he was one of, if not the most dynamic pass rushers in this Draft,” GM Joe Douglas said of McDonald during training camp. “Great combination of skill, production and athleticism. I think it was on full display at the Senior Bowl and throughout his career. Fired up to add him to a strong unit and keep adding to the line of scrimmage.”

Where McDonald is likely going to make the biggest impact – at least early on in his career – is as a pass rusher. Listed at only 241 pounds, Lance Zierlein of wrote in his pre-draft scouting report about McDonald that against bigger competition, he was able to hold his own in college.

However, at the NFL level, McDonald will have to consistently show he can hold up against the run and set a strong edge.

With the aforementioned Johnson, Williams, and Franklin-Myers all returning this season, it’s not as if the Jets’ ability to get after the quarterback will be greatly diminished if Huff doesn’t return. As a defensive unit, the Jets generated pressure at the fourth-highest rate in 2023, according to Pro Football Reference.

But with that said, Huff’s 67 pressures will be a lot of production for the Jets to replace. That, of course, won’t all fall on McDonald’s shoulders by any means either–although a jump similar to the one Johnson made will be important.

“He’s got all the freakish ability,” Robert Saleh said of McDonald. “He can win with speed and can counter inside, but until you get those tackles playing a little bit more heavy-footed because they’re afraid of your power and all that stuff won’t matter, so he’s learning that aspect of it, but I’m excited.”

Story originally appeared on Jets Wire