Recent history (and not-so-recent history for that matter) has not been kind to the New York Jets and their fans when it comes time to evaluate the team’s draft classes. However, the past decade or so has been particularly bad for Gang Green with John Idzik and Mike Maccagnan turning in what seems like one busted class after another.
However, a pair of emerging Jets defensive linemen could be turning the 2018 class from a two starter draft, to one of the better classes the team has had in years.
Franchise quarterback (yes, he’s still going to be the guy) Sam Darnold tops the list of course as the number three pick in the 2018 class, but it’s some of the picks behind him that are starting to turn heads.
Yes, fourth round pick Chris Herndon’s 2019 season is going to be a throwaway year as he finds himself on IR after missing the first eight weeks of the year, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a well-rounded no. 1 tight end for years to come. Outside of Darnold and Herndon, there’s defensive linemen Nathan Shepherd and Folorunso Fatukasi who deserve some credit for what they’ve done this season.
First there’s Shepherd, who many onlookers had pegged as being kicked to the curb when he was due to return from an early season for PED suspension. However, Shepherd, in a rare move, owned up to his mistake. He didn’t blame a tainted supplement. He didn’t say he took something that he was told was legal. He didn’t say he had no idea what could have triggered the positive test. What he did do was admit that he was trying to impress a new coaching staff to make the Jets roster after being largely invisible as a rookie. Since returning, he’s been anything but.
Shepherd appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, failing to register a single sack and coming away with only one tackle for loss. Since coming back from his suspension this season (3 games), he already has 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and one quarterback hit. His hands look stronger and his feet look quicker. If Shepherd does in fact become a starting-level player who can disrupt the pass, he goes from bust to third-round boom.
Even more impressive than Shepherd has been sixth-round pick Folorunso Fatukasi. In his second season out of Connecticut, Fatukasi didn’t see the field as a rookie as he was viewed as a developmental player who needed time to adjust to the pro game, and adjust he has. Fatukasi is evoking memories of a young Damon Harrison as he consistently overpowers opposing blockers and plugs up running lanes.
According to pro football focus, Fatukasi is the third-highest graded interior defensive lineman in the entire NFL over the past six weeks.
.@PFF's top-graded defensive linemen since Week 6:
1. Aaron Donald
2. Calais Campbell
3. Foley Fatukasi pic.twitter.com/Nf7uElQgHm
— New York Jets (@nyjets) November 16, 2019
On the season, Fatukasi has an overall grade of 89.6, ranking him 7th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Not too bad for a kid out of Connecticut.
A franchise quarterback, a multi-dimensional starting tight end, and two starting defensive linemen would mean four starters and a special team’s ace (RB Trenton Cannon) with just one miss in the group in cornerback Parry Nickerson who currently resides on the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.
It’s clearly far too early to say exactly what this class will be, but it’s safe to say that it could be the best (and most important) the Jets have had in what seems like an eternity.