New York Jets Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State – Round 3
Just a few years ago the Jets had a very talented group of interior defensive linemen, which gave the team a ton of speed, athleticism, strength, and size up front. However gradually, New York lost or moved on from the likes of Snacks Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and then Muhammed Wilkerson. Leonard Williams is now the team’s top defensive lineman, and he has been a good player for the Jets since being a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. After losing those other three talented players, New York has to replenish its defensive line and started that with Shepherd in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Shepherd was one of the Division II products who did well enough to earn a Senior Bowl invitation. In Mobile, he held his own before getting injured. For 2017, Shepherd totaled 38 tackles with 12.5 for a loss and four sacks. He had 61 tackles with three sacks in 2016 and 69 tackles with three sacks in 2015. Sources from a variety of teams liked Shepherd and thought he could sneak into the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Jets were higher on him than those teams as they took Shepherd early in the third round.

With Williams commanding extra attention and double teams, Shepherd should see a lot of good single-block opportunities. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Shepherd is quick, strong and athletic. He has the skill set to be a quality starter next to Williams in 4-3 looks, and Shepherd has enough length to play five-technique defensive end in 3-4 looks. In a year or two, Shepherd could easily turn into a solid starter for New York.

2017: Jamal Adams, S
2016: Darron Lee, LB
2015: Devin Smith, WR
2014: Calvin Pryor, S
2013: Dee Milliner, CB

Most Likely To Bust

Chris Herndon, TE, Miami – Round 4
I don’t like choosing Herndon for having the most bust potential, but I have to pick a player. At Miami, Herndon was solid if unspectacular player. He was a role player, but not a devastating mismatch receiving tight end. While he is a solid blocker, he is not a dominator. In the NFL, I could see Herndon (6-4, 252) being a jack-of-all-trades-, master-of-none-type player.

Herndon is likely to be at least be a solid backup, but the Jets are looking for a new starting tight end after losing Austin Seferian-Jenkins in free agency. Herndon will compete with Oakland castoff Clive Walford and Jordan Leggett for the starting job. If Herndon is the starter, I could see him underwhelming and then getting possibly replaced. Of the Jets’ picks in from the first four rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, Herndon looks like he has the most bust potential to me.

2017: Chad Hanson, WR
2016: Jordan Jenkins, LB
2015: Bryce Petty, QB
2014: Dexter McDougle, CB
2013: Geno Smith, QB

Potential Boom Pick

Sam Darnold, QB, USC – Round 1
The Jets have been in need of a franchise quarterback and were fortunate that both the Browns and Giants passed on the consensus top signal-caller of the 2018 NFL Draft. Darnold has the potential to be the franchise quarterback who New York has been searching for. With his skill set and intangibles, he has real boom potential for the NFL.

There is a lot to like about Darnold as a future starter in the NFL. First and foremost, he is an accurate pocket passer who throws with good ball placement and is very precise in the short to intermediate part of the field. Darnold shows excellent anticipation to know when and where receivers are going open. With his feel and timing, Darnold hits receivers on the run, leading them to picking up yards after the catch. He also regularly will throw receivers open and help them to find space to beat tight coverage. Darnold is a natural rhythm thrower who would fit best in a West Coast system to maximize his ability to throw accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field. He is a smooth precision passer who can be deadly when he gets into a good groove.

Darnold is comfortable in the pocket, but also has the ability to move around to buy time. While he is not a running quarterback, he is functional to avoid sacks and will move around to help his offensive line and receivers. Darnold made a number of really nice plays during the past two years when things went off script as he got creative to move the ball for his offense. Routinely, Darnold would buy time with his feet and then make an accurate throw downfield with the rush closing in on him. Regularly, Darnold displayed good poise to keep plays alive. In every game at USC, Darnold would make some impressive throws that were very rare for a college quarterback.

The negatives with Darnold are well known. His ball security in 2017 was poor, including both issues with fumbles and throwing too many interceptions. He needs to get more consistent there, and pro coaching could help him with that.

Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has everything riding on Darnold panning out into a franchise quarterback. Maccagnan gave up three second-round picks and the sixth-overall pick for Darnold instead of selecting Deshaun Watson or Pat Mahomes with the sixth-overall pick in 2017 NFL Draft. I think Darnold could be a boom pick for the Jets, and they desperately need that to happen.

2017: Marcus Maye, S
2016: Christian Hackenberg, QB
2015: Leonard Williams, DE
2014: Jace Amaro, TE
2013: Sheldon Richardson, DT

Future Depth Player

Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane – Round 6
Sources at other teams say they thought that Nickerson could easily be a third- or fourth-rounder, so he was a good value for New York in the sixth frame. In 2017, Nickerson totaled 55 tackles with eight breakups and six interceptions. He showed nice ball skills in other seasons, including nine breakups with four picks as a junior and six interceptions with six breakups in 2014. Nickerson needs to gain weight and get stronger for taking on NFL receivers, but he has some speed, which he illustrated at the combine with an electric 40 time at the combine. Then in the field drills, the 5-foot-10, 182-pounder looked fast and fluid. He fits as a slot cornerback backup to Buster Skrine and could be solid corner depth for New York.

2017: Jordan Leggett, TE
2016: Charone Peak, WR
2015: Jarvis Harrison, G
2014: Tajh Boyd, QB
2013: Brian Winters, G

Walt’s 2018 NFL Draft Grades:

3. Sam Darnold, QB, USC A Grade
Wow, the Jets had Sam Darnold fall into their laps. They traded up to No. 3, but they could’ve panicked. When the Broncos were rumored to move up to No. 2, they could have pulled the trigger, but they did not. They were patient, and they selected someone whom many believe is the best quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft.

This has to be an “A” grade. The Jets finally found their quarterback of the future, but hopefully Darnold is much better than the previous USC signal-caller New York selected.

72. Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State B Grade
Nathan Shepherd was dominant in his Division II school, routinely taking on multiple blockers and generating interior pressure. We’ll see if that translates to the NFL, but he has the athletic ability to succeed. This is a high-upside pick, though I wish the Jets used this selection to help new quarterback Sam Darnold.

107. Chris Herndon, TE, Miami B+ Grade
This is a pretty logical selection. Chris Herndon is a solid athlete coming off a knee issue, so the range makes sense for him. The Jets had to give Sam Darnold more weapons, and they just lost Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

179. Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane A- Grade
Parry Nickerson has size limitations, but he was extremely productive at Tulane. He has excellent ball skills and could develop into a decent slot cornerback. Nickerson could’ve been taken a round earlier than this, so I like this pick.

180. Foley Fatukasi, DT, Connecticut A- Grade
Foey Fatukasi tested very well and has some upside. He has a quick interior pass rush, so he could have been chosen a bit earlier than this. Once again, the Jets made a quality selection in the sixth round.

204. Trenton Cannon, RB, Virginia State B Grade
Trenton Cannon was seen as a late-round sleeper. He’s an elusive running back, but a small one, as he weighs 190 pounds. The Jets will be hoping to use him as some sort of gadget weapon, and that could have its benefits.

2018 NFL Draft Team Grade: B- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

New York Jets Season Preview

Fantasy Football Rankings - May 23

2025 NFL Mock Draft - May 21

NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

NFL Picks - Feb. 12