Chad Leistikow and Matt Bain report on Iowa's signing day.
We're less than a month away from the Feb. 7 signing period. The Hawkeyes have most of their 2018 class nailed down, but there are still holes to be filled and prospects to be courted.
One emerging priority target: Jayden McDonald, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound linebacker from North Gwinnett High School in Georgia.
A consensus three-star athlete, McDonald was originally committed to Rutgers, but he decommitted last week after receiving offers from Iowa, Kansas State and Ole Miss in late December.
Those three appear to be the finalists for the quick outside linebacker's services. McDonald is set to take official visits to Kansas State (Jan. 19), Iowa (Jan. 26) and Ole Miss (Feb. 2) before making his decision.
Iowa wants another linebacker in this 2018 class, and McDonald, who played in a 4-3 defense in high school, is one of the best remaining options in the country.
Let's break down what stands out about McDonald in this Hawkeye film room session.
A blitzing specialist: McDonald is the type of linebacker who thrives in the freedom a 4-3 defense provides, especially on the weak side. In other words: This dude is a blitzing specialist who has the kind of north-south speed you often see with strong safeties. He's best when he blitzes off the edge. But even with inside blitzes, McDonald lives in the opponent's backfield. You can see it right away at the 0:15 mark, or again at 1:15. He's got the anticipation and acceleration to destroy plays when unblocked. But he's got a quick enough first step to blow past defensive ends for sacks, too, as you can see at the 2:15 mark.
Remember the strong safety comparison? Of course, Iowa doesn't blitz too much. Or at least it hasn't in recent years. But as good as McDonald is at blitzing, he might be even better in pass coverage — an area of the game Iowa linebackers are certainly utilized. His read-and-react skills and hands are quite good for a linebacker, and there are several examples of him reading the quarterback's eyes and jumping routes for interceptions throughout his film (you can see a couple at 0:20 and 1:25). Most of his pass coverage clips show McDonald doing damage on short-range routes — slants, quick outs or curls. But arguably his most impressive clip comes at the 4:10 mark, when McDonald runs step for step with a slot receiver in one-on-one coverage and breaks up a pass on a deep corner route. Iowa prioritizes range in its defenders, and McDonald embodies that.
"Motor" is often overused, but McDonald has it: Not once in his film does McDonald come even close to not finishing a tackle. He plays full-throttle until the whistle (and sometimes a little after the whistle, too). His legs are constantly churning, eyes constantly tracking the ball-carrier. At the 1:55 mark, McDonald speeds through the line on an inside blitz, gets chipped by the running back and falls down before immediately hopping up and sacking the quarterback from behind. At the 3:25 mark, McDonald misreads the play and initially bounces outside as the opposing running back bursts through the middle. But he immediately recovers, turns on a dime and accelerates for a booming tackle to save a big gain. That kind of stuff is hard to teach.
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.