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Will McDonald could be Iowa State’s first first-round NFL Draft pick in 50 years
53 scouts representing all 32 NFL teams were at Iowa State’s pro day
AMES — Will McDonald could be the first Iowa State football player drafted in the first round since 1973.
That’s kind of a big deal, but it’s merely an afterthought for the Cyclones’ all-time sacks leader.
“I didn’t think I’d be here six or five years ago,” McDonald said Tuesday after working out for NFL scouts during ISU’s pro day. “I was working at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, and I wasn’t expecting to be here at Iowa State doing my thing.
“I didn’t even know I was a good football player.”
He does now. McDonald — who is tied atop the Big 12’s career sacks chart with 34 — solidified his potential to be a first-round NFL Draft pick last month at the NFL Combine, where he shined in a variety of drills despite running a temperature as high as 104 degrees.
McDonald’s a major reason why 53 scouts representing all 32 NFL teams were in attendance Tuesday at the Bergstrom Football Complex. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made the trip to Ames one day after attending Iowa’s pro day and appeared to pay particularly close attention to McDonald and the Cyclones’ all-time leading receiver Xavier Hutchinson, who projects as a mid- to late-round selection.
“It’s great,” said Hutchinson, whose 254 receptions are the most in Big 12 history by a three-year player. “It makes you stay on your toes, though. You have to be sharp. You want to impress them. That’s why you’re out here. That’s why I’m out here. I just want to show them what I can do.”
McDonald and Hutchinson were joined by former teammates M.J. Anderson (defensive end) Anthony Johnson (safety/nickel), O’Rien Vance (linebacker), Colby Reeder (linebacker), Trevor Downing (center/guard) and Darren Wilson (wide receiver) on the indoor practice field.
Anderson and Johnson also performed at the combine alongside McDonald and Hutchinson, elevating their respective resumes as ISU hopes to see four or more players drafted for the second consecutive season.
Johnson benefited from a shift to safety last season after playing cornerback his entire ISU career.
“I was all-in from the get-go,” said Johnson, who earned second-team all-Big 12 honors in 2022. “Once I had the meeting with (head coach Matt) Campbell and I got some feedback from some scouts, I’m like, ‘Man, I’m all the way in,’ because even if I’d been just a little bit out, I probably wouldn’t have the same outcome I had this year.”
Vance, a former Cedar Rapids Washington standout, trimmed down from 260 pounds to 240 in preparation for the draft. The 6-foot-2 linebacker said shedding that weight has allowed him to be more spry and explosive.
“It’s a movement thing,” said Vance, who ranks among the top 10 all-time at ISU in tackles for loss and sacks. “If I can be more fluid and not as sticky in my cuts and stuff, that was the best thing for me.”
McDonald has put on good weight in recent months. The elite edge rusher has bulked up to 245 pounds and hopes to remain in the 245-250 range as he continues to train for a promising professional career.
“I want to see how far I can take my body,” McDonald said. “See if I can still bend, see if I can still go fast.”
Don’t bet against him. Just don’t expect him to worry about whether he’ll become the Cyclones’ first first-round pick in 50 years. It’s not about where McDonald goes, it’s about what he does.
“We all do the same job, no matter if you’re a first-round pick or the last pick,” he said. “You’re doing the same job.”