IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa has already won National Signing Day and players don’t sign their national letters of intent for another day.
McDonald was Iowa’s top recruiting target since receiving an offer in late December and landing a player with the potential to play as a freshman is the ideal way to finish off a recruiting class.
During McDonald’s recruitment, landing him went from a must at a position of need to a bonus that can set the class over the top.
McDonald is the fourth linebacker in the class and second to commit in four days. In-state linebacker Jordan Klemp committed on Friday. Klemp is likely headed to middle linebacker while McDonald is a natural fit at LEO.
— Jayden McDonald (@AthKyngJ) February 6, 2018
Fitting in at linebacker
The hybrid position requires a unique skill set. The linebacker must be quick enough to cover wide receivers and tight ends in the slot. Yet, he must be physical and aggressive enough to step up and help with run support near the line of scrimmage.
Not every linebacker prospect is comfortable doing both. McDonald’s Hudl highlights show excelling at both.
Iowa is breaking in three new starting linebackers this year. The competition is wide open. At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, McDonald is likely too small to start in Year 1.
But the lack of depth opens up plenty of spots for linebackers to contribute on special teams in 2018. Special teams is where he could find a home as a freshman.
There isn’t anything sexy about special teams talk when breaking down commitment prospects. McDonald is a long-term play. It’s that way with most Iowa recruits.
Evaluating February commitments
The definition of success at the end of the recruiting cycle is different from at any other point in it. It’s especially true for a program like Iowa, which isn’t sitting around on National Signing Day waiting to see if a 5-star prospect will put its hat on during a nationally televised announcement.
The excitement a 3-star prospect produces near Signing Day is different from in April because recruiting in February is a lot like starting your holiday shopping on Christmas Eve. Your options are limited because most of the merchandise is already gone.
Late in the recruiting process, the Hawkeyes work the margins, finding players most pass over because they are in need of some work before being ready for Big Ten play.
Sometimes, Iowa must battle another Division I program. It happened with Minnesota for wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette last year.
More often than not, it doesn’t. Iowa lands someone no one else is after. It was that way with 2018 in-state linebacker Logan Klemp.
Making the most of the last scholarship
The Hawkeyes can turn either kind of recruit into stars. They are always quick to point out cornerback Desmond King, running back Akrum Wadley and linebacker Josey Jewell as late in the process Signing Day steals.
Iowa is good at turning the final players in the class into the first ones people mention when discussing it five years later.
It’s easier to do when the player arrives on campus with a Big Ten-level skill set. McDonald certainly does.
This is no guarantee for future success, but few Iowa prospects receiving the final scholarship in a class hold McDonald’s athleticism and playmaking potential.
It’s why National Signing Day is a win, even if it’s still a day away.