Hawkeye film room: Linebacker recruit Jayden McDonald is perfect fit for 4-3 defense
We're just a couple days away from the Feb. 7 signing period, and the Hawkeyes just landed their top remaining 2018 target.
Georgia linebacker Jayden McDonald, one of the country's fastest-rising available prospects, committed to Iowa on Monday night. He picked the Hawkeyes over Purdue, Ole Miss and Kansas State.
Rivals gives McDonald three stars and ranks him the No. 46 outside linebacker in 2018. The 247Sports Composite also gives him three stars and ranks him 2018's No. 46 outside linebacker.
McDonald is Iowa's 23rd commitment (fourth linebacker) for its 2018 class, including junior college transfer Daviyon Nixon and grayshirt Riley Moss. He joins early enrollee Dillon Doyle, early signee Seth Benson and recent commit Logan Klemp as Iowa's incoming linebackers.
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. No, Iowa doesn't blitz a whole bunch. That athleticism is useful in any capacity, though.
Remember the strong safety comparison? Like we just said, 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 email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.