After another forgettable season, the New York Jets have to improve in just about every area. Gang Green got their main target in April’s Draft, USC quarterback Sam Darnold. How did they do with all their picks? Hall Pass analyzes and grades the Jets’ entire draft class.
Round 1, Pick 3 (No. 3 Overall)
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
After moving their own first-round pick in the draft, No. 6 overall, and three second-rounders to the Indianapolis Colts, the Jets were able to move up three spots. The franchise made this trade to finally lock up a position of need—quarterback. However, Sam Darnold was the No. 1 option on every team’s big board (except one) so the odds of the USC prospect landing in GM Mike Maccagnan’s pocket seemed slim. Due to some last-minute buzz from Cleveland’s camp, the Browns elected to draft Heisman trophy-winner Baker Mayfield instead.
Arguably the safest pick at quarterback in the draft, Darnold would become a Jet after the Giants selected Saquon Barkley at No. 2. The 20-year-old brings much to the table, but he isn’t exactly a “plug-and-play” option at QB, at least not yet. Concerns with his ball security and mechanics are the focal points of his workouts in camp. Despite his room for improvement, Darnold’s physical stature, accuracy and play-making ability make him one to watch as the season begins. Coach Todd Bowles has made it clear that his first-round selection will have every opportunity to earn the starting job come Week 1. His franchise-quarterback potential is worthy of a No. 3 pick in this draft class.
Round 3, Pick 8 (No. 72 Overall)
Nathan Shepard, DT, Fort Hays State
To some, this is the most controversial selection of the draft for the Jets. Shepard carries a lot of baggage for a Division II prospect taken this early. After all, he missed two years of football in college due to financial issues. However, could Gang Green have found a diamond in the rough?
Recent departures from former Pro Bowl lineman Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson have left the team in need of help. Leonard Williams sees double-teams from every opposing team even with the additions of Steve McLendon and Mike Pennel. What do the Jets need? A dual-threat lineman with the ability to stuff the run and rush the edge, for starters. At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Shepard is a freak-athlete who could potentially do both. Even as a rotational player, he could free up Williams if Bowles chooses to lineup in a 3-4. his scheme could solidify New York’s defense as a threat, especially with new additions to the secondary.
Playoff teams such as the Rams, Eagles and Jaguars have demonstrated the importance of depth on the defensive line. A few years ago, the Jets were feared for their depth, highlighted by Williams, Wilkerson, and Richardson. To become successful again, they must get back to that. Maccagnan, when asked about Shepard said, “These are the guys that you kind of get excited about. That although they’re slightly older, they’re kind of interesting guys that aren’t in the normal path of high school to college and big programs and stuff like that.” If the Jets can find a way to dynamically implement Shepard, this pick could be worthy of an even higher grade.
Round 4, Pick 7 (No. 107 Overall)
Chris Herndon, TE, Miami
Desperate to add athleticism on offense and to find a long-term solution at tight end, the Jets snagged Herndon in the fourth round. At 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, the former high school basketball star has shown flashes of pro football potential in Miami. Truth be told, he could have seen his name come off the board on Day 2. Unfortunately, Herndon suffered an MCL injury in November that will continue to sideline him weeks into camp.
After losing Austin Seferian-Jenkins to the Jaguars, Gang Green needed to give themselves options at tight end. With six of them on the current roster it would be safe to assume the team is willing to make a few cuts. Herndon now joins Jordan Leggett (last year’s fifth-round selection), Bucky Hodges, Neal Sterling, Eric Tomlinson, and Clive Walford. Walford is the only roster-spot that boasts meaningful numbers over his career (70 receptions, 768 yards, 6 touchdowns). Leggett was injured most of last year and the team is likely unwilling to cut him loose just yet. Odds are that the Jets will role with Herndon, Leggett, and Walford come Week 1.
The criticism of this pick comes with adding an injured prospect to an already crowded room of tight ends. Although Herndon could prove to be the most talented of the bunch, we won’t know until that MCL is fully healed and the draftee from Miami is cleared for contact. Until then, the fourth-round selection earns a C.
Round 6, Pick 5 (No. 179 Overall)
Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane
At 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, Nickerson is far from physically imposing. But then you see his 4.32 40-yard dash time at the combine and watch Nickerson on tape. The Tulane DB is a speedster worthy of a draft position higher than the sixth round. Maccagnan could very well found himself the steal of the draft.
Before revealing his upside, we must address the injury-concerns that come with selecting Nickerson. He has had multiple knee surgeries that have sidelined him in his career. Although this rightfully concerned teams, possibly contributing to his slide in the draft, it’s important to note that he has not shown signs of a lingering injury throughout the combine, Pro Day and team workouts. Truthfully, that 4.32 should have been enough to show NFL teams that he’s got much more in the tank.
Now for the good stuff: the enormous upside and potential of playing in Todd Bowles’ defense. Last season the Jets had just 11 interceptions from an inexperienced, young secondary. Nickerson, despite the injuries, had 16 career interceptions (six coming from last season). If you ask the Tulane corner how he feels about his style of play he’d say, “I’m a consistent lockdown playmaker.”
New York did sure up some secondary concerns in the offseason by re-signing Morris Claiborne to a one-year deal. However, the biggest move was adding a new No. 1 corner, in Trumaine Johnson, to a five-year, $72 million deal. This has forced Bowles’ hand into moving Buster Skrine, free agent after this year, back to his preferred position of slot corner. Skrine has faced much scrutiny in New York and Nickerson could very well find a starting job if given the opportunity to play nickel. Although being a new position for him, Nickerson could thrive in the slot given his size, speed, and ball skills. The Jets potentially finding an immediate starter in the sixth round is enough to warrant such a high grade on this pick.
Round 6, Pick 6 (No. 180 Overall)
Folorunso Fatukasi, DL, Connecticut
The Queens, N.Y. native was supported by friends and family as he received the phone call affirming that he’d be a New York Jet. As a feel-good story, this pick could appeal to the fans and cause a great deal of people to root for him during his time with the hometown team. As a sixth-round selection, we’ll see how much potential Fatukasi has in the lineup.
Despite being a projected late-round lineman in this draft class, Fatukasi was surprisingly productive in his time at Conneticut. Not the fastest 6-foot-4, 318-pound prospect out there, he was able to play some time outside (19 tackles for loss; 14 sacks). However, his value as an interior lineman is likely what Bowles preferred in him (168 tackles). Odds are he’ll find playing time as relief for McLendon and possibly Pennel. As of now, it would be a stretch to project him as more than that. If the Jets can pair Shepard and Fatukasi as rusher and interior lineman, alongside Williams, this pick could pan out better than expected.
Round 6, Pick 30 (No. 204 Overall)
Trenton Cannon, RB, Virginia State
The Jets are desperate to become more athletic, specifically in skill positions on the field. One aspect of the game that Gang Green has struggled to find consistency, special teams. In particular, they spent much of last season searching for a return man that could get them through the season; they were unsuccessful. After losing three punts in two games, they were forced to cut Kalif Raymond and rotate any potential candidates. Last in the league, the Jets averaged just 4.5 yards per punt return. In March they added, former Atlanta Falcon, Andre Roberts and will get veteran Lucky Whitehead back this season. Why not take a chance on a dynamic player so late in the draft?
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound back ran a 4.4 40-yard dash and returned for his last two seasons of Division II. Honestly, New York likely cares little about his ability on the offensive side of the ball, considering the crowded backfield they have. The only way for Cannon to find his place on the 53-man roster is as a returner. Camp is going to be crucial for him as he must separate himself from Roberts, Whitehead, and whoever else the Jets view as a potential roster spot. For a late sixth round pick, Cannon could be worth the gamble.
Drafts are always easier to grade years down the road when you see the players develop and can accurately access their value. As of now, the Jets look to have gotten better in multiple areas of their team. Many were looking for New York to add depth to that offensive line but they chose to look elsewhere than the draft. This class will likely be judged by the trade that moved them into position to draft Darnold. Other players, such as Nickerson and Herndon, could prove to be starters for Gang Green but trading away three second-rounders for a quarterback is much more intriguing.
Did the Jets put themselves in a spot to solidify their quarterback position for years to come? Did they trade away potential starters, of second-round value, for another QB bust from USC? We’ll just have to wait another couple of years to truly determine which of those questions hold more truth.