Jets and Giants Focus on Defense in Round 1 of the N.F.L. Draft
The New York area’s football teams, at least moderately successful last year, did not get to pick in the glamorous top few spots in the first round of the N.F.L. draft on Thursday. Away from the spotlight, they both selected defensive players who look like they can help already solid cores.
Anything the Jets did on draft day was going to be overshadowed by the blockbuster trade for the future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers earlier in the week. That acquisition prompted many prognosticators to assume the Jets would take an offensive lineman to protect their new asset.
But selecting at No. 15 (two slots lower than originally assigned because of a pick swap in the Rodgers deal), the Jets went for Will McDonald IV, an edge-rushing defensive end from Iowa State.
McDonald is a sack specialist, holding the Big 12 career record, and at 6-foot-4 and 239 pounds, a physical marvel, by all accounts. He enjoys jumping over cars, although he said he planned to stop the hobby now that he is a pro.
McDonald is the first Iowa State player to go in the first round since 1973. The team was 4-8 last year, but did win the Fiesta Bowl in the 2020 season.
McDonald joins Quinnen Williams, the Jets’ star defensive lineman, who had 12 sacks last season. The Jets were tied for seventh in sacks last season, and if McDonald pans out, they could turn into one of the elite teams in that category. McDonald’s run defense is a bigger question mark.
“We’re not going to force anything,” General Manager Joe Douglas said. “We’re always going to let the board come to us and take the best player available.”
He added, “We’re hopeful to have a few double-digit leads late and have different waves of pass rushers to attack offensive linemen.”
Announcing the pick was not Commissioner Roger Goodell, but 13-year-old Kyle Stickles, as part of the Make-a-Wish program. He got to say, “With the 15th pick in the 2023 NFL draft, the New York J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets select …”
The Giants’ 9-7-1 record and playoff berth got them pick No. 25, but a draft-day trade moved them up one spot to take cornerback Deonte Banks of Maryland.
Banks had a shoulder injury that led him to miss much of the 2021 season, but he returned in 2022. Though his raw numbers were not amazing — two interceptions in his career — he was a hot commodity leading up to the draft, meeting with a dozen teams.
“He’s a prototype from a size standpoint,” said General Manager Joe Schoen. “He’s athletic, he’s physical, he can run.”
Cornerback seemed like a clear need for the Giants going into draft day. Banks will join a corps led by Adoree’ Jackson, who is in the last year of his contract.
The Giants were also said to be considering taking a wide receiver for Daniel Jones to throw to. But wide receivers went in all four slots from No. 20 to 23, depleting the choices there. There was even some scuttlebutt that despite the team just signing Jones to a long-term deal, it would go for another quarterback.
“It may not be a popular first-round position, but, best player available,” Schoen said of the pick of Banks.
“You can never have enough good corners,” Coach Brian Daboll said.