With the 2018 NFL Draft wrapped up, the New York Jets are looking toward the future with a medium-sized (six players picked in four rounds), yet the high-upside type of draft class. Despite not filling some roster holes, such as providing relief along the offensive line, most will look at this class as the Sam Darnold show for the team in the Meadowlands. However, there were other small school, highly athletic prospects selected for some much-needed roster depth.
Here is a look at every New York Jets draft choice in 2018:
Round 1/Pick no.3: Sam Darnold, QB-USC
Touted as one of the prospects with the highest upside at the position, Darnold could very well be the franchise savior fans have been clamoring for since Joe Namath gave meaning to the word “football” for Gang Green in the late 60s and early 70s.
Darnold is a winner, and as clean as prospects come in terms of character. In 24 starts, he took USC to a 20-4 record, including incredible comeback wins such as the one over a stacked Penn State team in the Rose Bowl, and huge bouts in the Pac 12 against crosstown rivals UCLA, Utah, and also beating Stanford in the Pac 12 championship.
Physically Darnold is a prototypical passer with the dimensions NFL scouts usually look for (6’3”, 221 lbs). Not only is he an accurate passer who can throw into tight windows, but he also has an instinctive knack for throwing with great anticipation. He has great improvisational skills as a playmaker outside the pocket, with great throw-on-the-run ability. He is also athletic enough to move the chains with his legs.
There are valid concerns regarding his turnover rate last season. He led the FBS last season with 22 total turnovers (13 interceptions, nine fumbles), but the coaching staff in New York must believe they can coach those out of his game to draft him ahead of “safer” prospect in UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
Round 3/Pick no. 72: Nathan Shepherd, DE-Fort Hays State
In drafting Shepherd, the Jets are getting a 6-foot-4, 315-pound mauler. The Canadian had to take two years off football due to financial issues, his relentlessness and never-quit spirit speak highly of his character.
Shepherd projects best as a DE in a base 3-4 scheme who can participate in coach Todd Bowles’ rotation early on in training camp. The heavy-handed and versatile lineman could free up DE Leonard Williams who was tasked with beating double teams all season long in 2017.
The level of competition (Fort Hays is a division II school) and his age (turns 25 in October) can be seen as negatives. However, Shepherd looked great in pads against division I linemen during Senior Bowl practices and NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein listed “diagnoses and works on his weaknesses” as one of Shepherd’s strengths in his player profile. His work ethic can help him offset some of the age concerns, as well as make his transition to the pro game smoother.
Round 4/Pick no. 107: Chris Herndon, TE-Miami
Often considered a Day 2 pick before tearing his MCL in late November, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight has the chance to become Darnold’s security blanket for years to come. While he cannot stretch the field and does not possess the same release as other athletic freaks, such as Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews and Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, Herndon can still provide a reliable set of hands getting off the line and working the middle of the field. Herndon averaged 11.9 yards per catch on 40 catches for the Hurricanes last season.
While the Jets have a crowded tight end room with last year’s medical redshirt fifth-round pick Jordan Leggett, Oakland castoff Clive Walford, and Eric Tomlinson and Neal Sterling–who were on the roster last year–none of these players recorded over eight catches last season. This can give Herndon a chance to compete for a starting job right away.
Round 6/Pick no. 179: Parry Nickerson, CB-Tulane
Drafted as a potential Buster Skrine replacement, or as an outside player to come in relief of Morris Claiborne when he is inevitably lost to injury, Nickerson is a confident player with exceptional ball production coming out of Tulane. He had 16 career interceptions for the Green Wave and was a consistent lockdown defender on the perimeter.
Nickerson’s measurables at the combine might just propel him to “hidden gem” status during his rookie campaign. He ran a 4.32 40-yard dash, and even though he is not a lengthy corner, is lacking in size and needs to be a better tackler, the upside in terms of ball skills and competitiveness make him a heavily underrated selection.
Round 6/Pick no. 180: Folorunso Fatukasi, DL-Connecticut
The Far Rockaway, NY native is a 6-foot-4, 318-pound prospect that could prove another bargain for the Jets. He was projected to go as early as the fourth round due to his raw athleticism (ran a 1.76 in the 10-yard split and a 4.53 in the short shuttle), production and leadership skills.
“Foley” can prove to be a chess piece along the defensive line, with the ability to move inside or rush off the edge. He recorded 167 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 14 sacks at UConn.
Round 6/Pick no. 204, Trenton Cannon, RB/R, Virginia State
Perhaps the least likely player to make the roster, Cannon’s roster spot is immediately compromised by a crowded backfield and the signing of return specialist Andre Roberts earlier in the offseason.
His athletic ability might have made GM Mike Maccagnan take a flier on Cannon, due to the team finishing dead last in yards averaged per punt return (4.5). He ran a 4.4 40-yard dash and accounted for 1863 all-purpose yards in his last season, with 20 career touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning.