New York Jets training camp is right around the corner, and while the QB battle will steal the majority of the headlines, there will, as always, be a dark horse player who surprises everyone and finds a way to stick on the final 53 man roster. It’s as early as early can be, but the writers at JetNation.com give their picks as to which unlikely candidate they believe will be with the club when the dust of the pre-season settles.
Antonio Garcia (Dan Ficca):
A low-risk signing, Antonio Garcia has a high ceiling and all of the tools to be a successful offensive lineman in the NFL. Garcia is athletic for an offensive tackle as he ran a 5.15 40-yard dash, has great footwork, keeps defenders in front of him with his long arms, and excels in pass protection as he did not allow a single sack in 2016 during his last season at Troy.
Although he must put back on some of the weight that he lost due to an illness (blood clots in his lungs) and work on his run-blocking, he still possesses all of the traits that teams look for in a young lineman. A former third-round pick (85th overall) of the New England Patriots in 2017, Garcia was highly regarded in league circles as one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. He was cut by the Patriots this offseason after missing all of 2017, but he should be able to find a home with the Jets as long as he stays healthy.
Kelvin Beachum is currently serving as the team’s starting left tackle and had a solid first year with Gang Green, but they could part ways with him after the season if Garcia shows that he belongs. A 24-year old tackle on a cost-effective contract for a few more years, plenty of talent at his disposal, and the Jets lacking quality depth along the offensive line, Garcia has a good chance to turn some heads this summer and crack the final 53-man roster.
Folorunso Fatukasi (Harrison Glaser):
Folorunso Fatukasi, quite a mouthful. He calls himself Foley for short. His heritage is Nigerian, but he’s lived locally in Far Rockaway, Long Island. Foley stayed local for college as well and went to UCONN where he excelled. Fatukasi ended his collegiate career with 170 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 14 sacks,and 4 forced fumbles.
Fatukasi is a massive presence in the middle of the field. He measures at 6’4″ and 318 lbs and put up 33 bench press reps of 225 lbs at the combine. He wins battles with his strength, but will have to refine his other techniques as well. Fatukasi played defense tackle in college, though he projects as a defensive end due to his mobility for someone his size. He could still kick into the interior of the line, which may be where he fits best. He still has to work on his pass rushing, but he is a stout run stuffer already, which could allow him to push for playing time early and possibly crack the 53 man roster. If he can improve as a pass rusher, he could become a starter down the road. Fatukasi was projected as a 4th round pick by some NFL draft analysts and the Jets snagged him in the 6th round. He may even wind up higher on the depth chart than 3rd round pick Nathan Shepherd when all is said and done. Overall, he is an intriguing prospect and a great value pick for the Jets when they got him.
Dakoda Shepley (Glenn Naughton):
The Jets are pretty much set along the offensive line in terms of a starting five with LT Kelvin Beachum, LG James Carpenter, C Spencer Long, RG Brian Winters and RT Brandon Shell. Brent Qvale and Dakota Dozier have been decent back-ups in recent years when called upon, but there’s still room for improved depth.
Consider the fact that Carpenter, Long and Winters could all be replaced as early as next season if things don’t work out for them in 2018, and the need for depth becomes magnified. Shepley played his college ball in Canada where the athletic big man was chosen with the fifth overall pick in the CFL draft this off-season, but he opted to give the NFL a shot first.
Shepley could be the longest of the long-shots on this list, and perhaps the practice squad is a more likely destination, but his impressive mobility, tenacity, and experience at multiple spots on the O-line could give him a shot.
Mych Thomas (Will Snell):
Thomas’ ability to take on double teams and clog up the middle could help him make the roster. Standing at 6 ‘ 3”, 320 pounds Thomas has the size to make an impact early in training camp. Along with his size, Thomas ran a 5.25 40 yard dash, recorded a 25.5 vertical, and had 29 reps during Texas Tech’s pro day.
Aside from his numbers, on film it is crucial to take a look at his on field play and see what could land Thomas a 53 man roster spot. On the field in his senior season, Thomas registered 41 tackles, 25 solo tackles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. Thomas had a massive inside presence for the Red Raiders, where he earned All-Big 12 honorable mention.
With the numbers Thomas put up at his pro day, and on the field for the Red Raiders, he’s definitely a player to watch at the start of training camp. As we pointed out in our JetNation Defensive Line Preview, Thomas plays much faster than his size would indicate. In the end, with Steve McLendon entering the final year of his deal, if Thomas shows he can use his size and speed as his advantage, he could impress the Jets brass and become one of the Cinderella stories of training camp.
Training camp is just a couple of weeks away, so it won’t be long before we see these four players and many more, hoping to stand out and make the cut and make the trip to Detroit to open up the season on Monday Night Football.