Jets Hope Going Small in Draft has big Impact

In his first three years as Jets GM, Mike Maccagnan has made a habit out of drafting players from the Power 5 conferences. His only Division II pick through three drafts has been linebacker Dylan Donahue out of West Georgia. In 2018 Jets hierarchy went outside of the box and took a chance on a few more players from smaller schools.

Four of their six selections were spent on small program, under the radar players. Nathan Shepherd (Fort Hays St.), Parry Nickerson (Tulane), Folorunso Fatukasi (UConn), and Trenton Cannon (Virginia St.) will all be looking to prove that they belong in the National Football League.

As most fans know, Division I players from the top conferences play against some of the best Collegiate competition. Although the jump to the NFL is still a big difference for them, the gap is not as wide as it is coming from a lower level DI or DII school. But just because these prospects are coming from a smaller program doesn’t mean that they can’t end up being quality NFL players.

Gang Green’s talented youngsters may need more time to develop because of the jump in competition, but many successful NFL players have made the transition from Division II schools to the pros. Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Janoris Jenkins, and defensive end William Hayes have had solid pro careers just to name a few. However, the odds are still stacked against them.

Only a handful of prospects have ever been drafted out of Fort Hays and Virginia State. It will be a bit of a culture shock for the likes of Shepherd and Cannon to acclimate to the level of competition in the NFL. Of course, all players are different so it remains to be seen how their game will end up translating to the pros.

Shepherd was the first Division II prospect to be selected in this year’s draft and the first player to be drafted out of Fort Hays since 1987. While some thought he was a reach in the third-round, the Jets hope that the 6’4″ 315-pound defensive lineman will let his play answer those questions.

He was almost unblockable in college with 27 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks from 2015-2017. He’ll find NFL offensive lineman much more difficult to shed though, especially coming from a DII college. Shepherd has a high motor and does not take any plays off. If he puts forth the same effort and intensity that he has his whole career, he should end up being a solid player for the Jets in the years to come.

Cannon is a speedy running back that made a living out of making opposing defenders miss in the open field during his days at Virginia State. Not only can he be a change of pace back for Gang Green, but he can also play a key role on special teams returning kicks.

However, he has a small frame at 5’11” 185-pounds and may be in for a rude awakening in the NFL. Defenders will be stronger and faster than his competition was with Virginia St, but he was still worth taking a flier on with a sixth-round pick.

Another small school product, Parry Nickerson showed big play ability at Tulane.

Parry Nickerson and Folorunso Fatukasi came out of Tulane and UConn respectively. Both are Division I schools that play in the American Athletic Conference, which isn’t exactly the highest level of competition. Players from these schools such as running back Matt Forte and safety Tyvon Branch have actually gone on to have successful careers in the NFL which is more than can be said for Fort Hays and Virginia.

Nickerson and Fatukasi’s transitions to the pros should be a little smoother than their fellow draft mates. Nickerson should have no trouble keeping up with opposing receivers with his blazing speed, but he’ll find the receivers in the NFL are light-years ahead of his opposition at Tulane. He must also improve his tackling, especially when he is matched up against much bigger receivers or tight ends.

Fatukasi was also a disruptive force along the defensive line at the collegiate level like Shepherd was. He racked up 45 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, and 4 sacks in 2017 at Connecticut. He has a massive frame at 6’4″ 318-pounds and was often double-teamed because of his size and strength. However, he won’t be seeing much of that in the NFL until he can prove otherwise. Fatukasi, like Shepherd, will quickly learn that NFL offensive lineman will be much more difficult to move than his competition in the AAC.

Mike Maccagnan identified his targets and made the moves that he had to make to get them, regardless of their school background. He hasn’t had much middle round draft success with big school players so he will hope that he has better luck with this year’s draft crop, finding some diamonds in the rough. But it can be a tall task to rely on and to try to build a team with small school players.

The odds are slim that his late round picks will be able to contribute immediately as they are projects that will need time to flourish. However, even though they may not be ready to help the team in year one, they should be able to take the time to adapt to such a big jump to the pros. It’ll be up to the Jets coaching staff to develop their talented players into starters in the NFL.

Q & A with on the St. Louis Rams With Sports Talk Variety Host Michael Mack

Had an opportunity to ask some questions of Michael Mack blogger, avid Rams fan, and co-host of “Making Sense with Mike and Tom” (Twitter @mswmmth) sports talk variety show about the upcoming game between the New York Jets and the St Louis Rams.

Here is Michael’s insight into the Rams specifically and the game as a whole:

 

JN:  Jeff Fisher took over as head coach of the Rams this season. How would you rate his job thus far?

Michael:  I’d rate his job a 7 out of 10 at this point of the season.  It would have been a little bit higher but the game against San Francisco had to many mental mistakes and Jeff Fisher known for being critical of play on the field and teaches discipline off the field.

The defense has looked great, Greg Williams was supposed to be the coordinator but was suspended because of “Bounty-gate” forcing Jeff Fisher to take the defensive coaching role on and he’s done a good job.

JN:  The Rams have an impressive defensive line with Robert Quinn and Chris Long having over 13 sacks between them.  How do you see the Rams defensive line matching up with the Jets offensive line?

Michael:  Chris Long has really been playing exceptional football along the defensive line and first round pick Michael Brockers was hurt in the beginning of the season but is now getting in the swing of things on the interior of the line, seeing more snaps.  Defensive end Robert Quinn is playing wonderful football as well.  St Louis does get after the quarterback so the Jets offensive line will have to play up to the speed which they’ll see from the Rams defensive linemen.

JN:  Could you tell us about the play of the Rams linebackers and secondary?

Michael:  Linebacker James Laurinatis, Jet fans you’re going to want to watch out for him, played at Ohio State and is the Rams leading tackler.  The Rams play a 4-3 base but like to bring pressure from the linebacker position so look for guys like Jo-Lonn Dunbar and possible Mario Haggan at the “strong side “ to presser the quarterback as well as provide support stopping the run.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was picked up from Tennessee, he is a Jeff Fisher guy, and has been the leader as the secondary goes.  Janoris Jenkins is the rookie, he’s been playing well in spurts not taken the starting cornerback role on completely just yet, but you’re seeing the development. The secondary as a whole is talented, can make plays.

JN:  How the year is going for starting QB, 2010 first overall pick, Sam Bradford and can you describe his development?

Michael:  He’s got over 2,000 yards passing, an 85 quarterback rating (QBR) while being sacked 25 times on the season, which is a bit alarming but a lot of that falls on the offensive line.  Bradford has been efficient as a passer, 62% completions, but would like to see a better touchdown to interception ratio 10-to-7 which could increase his QBR.  Overall he has improved since last season and is moving in the right direction.

JN:  The Rams new offensive coordinator is Brian Schottenheimer, formerly of the Jets, what are your impressions of him so far and how the team has adapted to his offense?

Michael:  Schottenheimer is not afraid to open thing up and go down the field.  Sam Bradford had 6 TD passes in 2011 but has already eclipsed that with 10 this year.  Wide receiver Chris Givens led the league at one point with 40 yard pass attempts, so he’s not afraid to throw down the field.

Schottenheimer has helped with the development of rookie running back Daryl Richardson a 7th round pick who’s been impressive along with the veteran Stephen Jackson gives a nice one, two punch at the running back position.

JN:  Could you give us some information on the Rams receivers and tight ends?  Who should the Jets be most concerned about Bradford targeting?

Michael:  He just came off of injury, wide receiver Danny Amendola, and had 11 receptions for the Rams last week against the 49ers.  He has really helped Sam Bradford’s development in St. Louis and leads the Rams in receptions and yards.  The Rams have some other receivers who can go deep on you, Brandon Gibson 48 targets with 31 receptions, tied for the team lead in touchdowns, and Chris Givens five catches over 20 yards.  Tight end Lance Kendricks is a good blocker but is not afraid to go over the middle with 23 receptions this season.

JN:  Can you give us a prediction on the game?

Michael:  Sanchez will have to redeem himself, Tebow packages could be effective and stopping the run game is an issue for the Rams, so Shonn Greene could have another game like he had against Indianapolis.   I also feel that the Rams still make too many mental errors during games which will cost them.

I have the Rams losing this game, final score:  Jets 28 – Rams 24.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JetNation NFL Power Rankings – Part One

The following is a worst-to-first team-by-team pre-camp NFL power ranking.  This is a three part series: Part 1 (32-22), part 2 (21-11), part 3 (10-1).  All statistics are courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.

32) Cleveland Browns

Offense:  The Browns only averaged 13.6 points per game (30th) in 2011, so could it be any worse in 2012?  It could be, the Browns decided to improve their offense by drafting RB Trent Richardson (#3) and QB Brandon Weeden (#22) who is set to replace former starter Colt McCoy.  Unfortunately Weeden won’t have much talent in the passing game as second year receiver Greg Little has ability but is unreliable catching the ball.  LT Joe Thomas and Center Alex Mack are excellent but they’ll be counting on rookie Mithchell Schwartz (drafted #37) to play RT.

Defense:  There is some talent here but losing second year DT Phil Taylor to injury will hurt an already weak run defense (147.7 YRS per, 30th).  Strong-side LB Scott Fujita’s three game suspension, bounty-gate, doesn’t help either.  Second year DE Jabaal Sheard will look to improve on his 8.5 sack performance.  MLB D’Qwell Jackson had 158 tackles/3.5 sacks and CB Joe Haden is a solid defender.

Analysis:  The Browns play in a difficult division with a tough schedule.  Their defense was 5th (19.2) in points per but they will be on the field to often as rookie Richardson can’t carry the team alone and Weeden will surely have his rookie struggles especially with the lack of prime targets.  Just wonder what Matt Barkley looks like in Brown?

31) Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense:  Finished last season 28th in points scored (15.2) and 32nd (136.2) in passing yards.  Second year QB Blaine Gabbert started 14 games last year was sacked 40 times and had a quarterback rating (QBR) of 65.5.  The Jaguars drafted WR Justin Blackmon (#5) and added veteran WR Laurent Robinson to help their anemic passing attack.  RB Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing (1,606 YRS) and was the primary reason the Jags won 5 games.  He is unhappy with his contract so maybe the combination of wear/tear and lack of motivation will cause a down year.

Defense:  Like the Browns the Jags defense is not bad they ranked 6th (313 YRS per) but they’ll be on the field a lot as well.  They only had 31 sacks in 2011 lead by Jeremy Mincey’s eight.  The defense is simple not dynamic enough to carry a weak offense.

Analysis:  Gabbert will have to step-up big time for the Jags to stay out of the AFC South cellar, just don’t expect it.  Wouldn’t be surprised to see ex-Dolphins QB Chad Henne before the year is over.  Maybe they can beat the Colts in their division but their schedule doesn’t show many wins.

30) Indianapolis Colts

Offense:  Lose a franchise QB gain another, they hope, as the Andrew Luck era begins. The Colts helped out the #1 overall pick by drafting ex-Stanford teammate TE Coby Fleener, TE Dwayne Allen and re-signing veteran WR Reggie Wayne.  The Colts lost long time offensive line anchor center Jeff Saturday but added RT Winston Justice who could single handedly end Luck’s career.  The Colts do have some options on the o-line but it will be a work in progress.  Donald Brown will be the feature RB for now as new head coach Chuck Pagano will want to run the ball to protect his future star QB.  Round five pick RB Vick Ballard could see some significant time since he is considered a power runner.

Defense:  Pagano and new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will be changing the team from a base 4-3 to a 3-4.  As most Jets fans know this can be a difficult process.  The current defensive personnel does not fit this scheme but they will implement it.  The Colts defense gave up almost 27 points per game last season, so even with a transition it shouldn’t get worse.

Analysis:  The Colts may have lucked out, no pun intended, getting the top QB prospect in years but the team is certainly rebuilding.  Job one is to protect and grow Luck as they put the pieces in place to contend again.  The Colts will fight to stay ahead of Jacksonville in the AFC South.

29) Miami Dolphins

Offense:  While QBs Matt Moore and David Garrard will fight to see who starts the season the Dolphins didn’t use the #8 overall pick to leave Ryan Tannehill on the bench for long, besides they only averaged 192.3 yards per game passing last year with Moore’s 12 starts.  Not that any of these QBs have someone the throw to as the Phins traded their best receiver Brandon Marshall (81 REC, 1,214 YRS).  They did acquire WR Chad Ochocinco who couldn’t put up numbers with Tom Brady throwing to him. RB Reggie Bush could easily lead the team in receptions this season.  The offensive line gave up 52 sacks last year but they will replace the entire right side with veteran OG Artis Hicks and draft pick (#42) OT Jonathan Martin.  Maulers like LT Jake Long and C Mike Pouncey will be playing new head coach Joe Philbin’s zone-blocking schemes, round peg in square hole?

Defense:   Here’s a theme, round peg in square hole, Philbin and new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will be switching the defense from a base 3-4 to a 4-3.  Karlos Dansby seems to fit the MLB role and Cameron Wake had 8.5 sacks last season and should fit at DE.  Where the rest fall is anyone’s guess?  They’re pass defense ranked 25th in 2011 and there is no sign that will improve.

Analysis:  The Dolphins have changed their offense/defense and will be breaking in a rookie QB at some point, the growing pains will show.  Their schedule is not bad but it will be difficult for them to stay out of the AFC East basement.

28) St. Louis Rams

Offense:  Ex-Jets coach Brian Schottenheimer will be running the Rams offense along with new head coach Jeff Fisher that finished last in points scored (12.1) in 2011.  QB Sam Bradford was sacked 36 times in only 10 games as the Rams gave up 55 sacks total.  While they picked up veteran center Scott Wells from Green Bay they haven’t done much more to improve their line.  Hopefully Fisher is smart enough to keep Bradford out of harm’s way this season before his is looking left and right not down field.  RB Steven Jackson and 2nd round pick Isaiah Pead should see lots of carries as Fisher will override Schottenheimer if he gets pass happy.

Defense:  The Rams could not stop the run last season giving up over 150 yards rushing per game.  They drafted DT Michael Brockers (#14) and added veteran DL Kendall Langford to help the run defense.  DE Chris Long led the team with 13 sacks and LB James Laurinaitis had 142 tackles in 2011.  They also added veteran CB Cortland Finnegan and drafted CB Janoris Jenkins (#39).

Analysis:  Fisher is a quality coach who understands how to build a team.  The Rams are improved just by having him.  Sam Bradford seems like a good fit for Schottenheimer’s short pass offense which will protect him from hits and the defense should be good enough to hold their own.  The Rams will most likely end up last in the NFC West again but will be a tougher out and should improve on last season’s 2-14 record.

27) Minnesota Vikings

Offense:  Second year QB Christian Ponder will be called upon to carry the offense more than usual with Adrian “All-Day” Peterson still recovering from a knee injury.  Fortunately Toby Gerhart is a competent replacement but he Vikings may not be able to rush for almost 145 yards per game like last year.  While the Vikings lost OG Steve Hutchinson they drafted LT Matt Kalil (#4) and picked-up veteran OL Geoff Schwartz as the line gave up 49 sacks last season.  If Ponder is to progress he’ll need to be upright to do so and the Vikings have the potential for a solid line.  They also picked up WR Jerome Simpson, who will miss 3 games due to suspension, to go along with Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins as Ponders main receivers.  The Vikings also acquired TE John Carlson.

Defense:  The Vikings ranked 31st in points allowed (28.2) along with giving up over 250 yards passing per game.  All of this with Jared Allen amassing 22 sacks during the season.  They used three draft choices to bolster the secondary safety Harrison Smith (#29), CB Josh Robinson (#66) and DB Robert Blanton (#139).

Analysis:  If the Vikings o-line can give Ponder some time and rush the ball effectively if/when Peterson returns their offenses could be formidable.  There have been reports the Vikings feel confident Ponder can take the next step.  The defense will need to get production out of their rookies right away.  The Vikings play in arguably the most difficult division and there are some winnable match-ups on the schedule but even a six win season will likely have Minnesota at the bottom of the NFC North.

26) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offense:  In 2010 QB Josh Freeman throw 25 TD – 6 INT, in 2011, 16 TD -22 INT, so will the real Josh Freeman please stand up.  The offense struggled as a whole only scoring about 18 points per game.  New head coach Greg Schiano will implement a run first mentality as Tampa drafted RB Doug Martin (#31) to lead their rushing attack.  They also acquired one of the best guards in football Carl Nicks to bolster the line.  The Bucs line would seem to thrive under Schiano’s power running attack.  They also added veteran WR Vincent Jackson who has played his career with elite QBs.  Wonder if he can elevate his game to help Freeman?  WR Mike Williams (65 REC, 771 YDS) will play alongside Jackson.  Schiano decided to ship-out TE Kellen Winslow, who led the team in receptions (75), and replace him with the aging Dallas Clark.

Defense:  Tampa gave up the most points per game last season (30.9), was terrible against the run (156.1 YDS per) and only recorded 23 sacks.  It looks like second year DE Da’Quan Bowers will miss the entire season with an Achilles tear but run stuffing DT Gerald McCoy should be back after missing much of last season to injury.  Second year DE Adrian Clayborn did have 7.5 sacks and DE Michael Bennett was solid as well.  The Bucs drafted safety Mark Barron (#7) and LB Lavonte David (#58) in an effort to improve their struggling defense.

Analysis:  The Bucs need to improve on both sides of the ball they have talent but QB play needs to get back to 25/6 not 16/22 and the defensive back 7 have to play at a higher level as the defensive line is solid.  Their schedule is tough enough as the NFC South produced two playoff teams last year.  Maybe the Bucs can squeeze out another win or two but they will be at the bottom of their division.

25) Oakland Raiders

Offense:  Was the trade for Carson Palmer worth it?  It is hard to judge Palmer on last season but now with a full off-season we’ll all get an idea of where he is at.  The Raiders do have weapons on offense WRs Darrius Heyward-Bay and Denarius Moore along with RB Darren McFadden make up the strength of the team’s fire-power.  Losing workhorse RB Michael Bush will leave the majority of carries to the often injured McFadden.  They also lack a proven pass catching TE as they had to release former starter Kevin Boss.

Defense:  The Raiders lost some key defensive players including DE/OLB Kamerion Wimbely (7 sacks) and CB Stanford Routt this off-season.  MLB Rolando McClain is heading to prison for 180 days and should receive a lengthy suspension from the NFL.  Given the losses it is hard to see much of an improvement from the 27.1 (29th) points per game from 2011.

Analysis:  The Raiders struggled to get under the salary cap and lost some key players in the process.  They also didn’t have a draft pick till the very end of round three because of the Palmer trade.  Hopefully they give new head coach Dennis Allen more than one year, no matter what the record, as the revolving door of coaches can’t help a team who hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002.  The Raiders will finish the season at the bottom of the AFC West.

24) Seattle Seahawks

Offense:  The Hawks look to improve on their 28th (303.8 YDS) ranked offense.  There big pick-up former Green Bay Packers back-up QB Matt Flynn who has started two games in his career and is a clear favorite to win the job over Tarvaris Jackson.  It was strange that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, Flynn’s former coordinator, didn’t make a strong run at him, red flag anyone?  Seattle’s o-line gave up 50 sacks last year because keeping the starting five on the field has been a problem.  The offense does feature RB Marshawn Lynch over 1200 yards rushing in 2011.  WRs Mike Williams only had 18 receptions last year and deep threat Sidney Rice played 9 games.  They did acquire TE Kellen Winslow to replace the departed John Carlson and slot receiver Doug Baldwin led the team (51 REC for 788 YRS) in 2011.

Defense:  The Hawks only allowed 19.7 points per game good for 7th in the league but only had 33 sacks.  They drafted rush DE Bruce Irvin (#15) in hopes of increasing that number as DE Chris Clemons led with 11 sacks last season.  They lost LB David Hawthorne and his 115 tackles to the Saints.  Free agent pick-up Barrett Ruud and second round draft pick Bobby Wagner (#47) will try and replace Hawthorne.  The Seahawks have a descent secondary led by SS Kam Chancellor (97 tackles, 4 INT) and Pro-Bowl FS Earl Thomas (98 tackles 2 INT).

Analysis:  The Seahawks are what they are, play well at home, but usually faultier on the road. It seems their offensive problems will continue even with Flynn and the defense, while not bad, does not pressure the QB enough to carry the lack of offense, so don’t expect much improvement over last season.

23) Washington Redskins

Offense:  The Skins hope they have found the answer at QB drafting Robert Griffin III trading up to grab him second overall.  Washington’s offense was 16th in yards per game (336.7) but only 26th in points scored (18).  Last Season QB Rex Grossman/John Beck and their 24 interceptions helped the Redskins to a minus 14 turnover ratio.  Hopefully Griffin can get the team into the end-zone more and keep the interceptions down even as a rookie.  Veteran receivers like Santana Moss, newly acquired Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan along with second year WR Leonard Hankerson give Griffin plenty of targets.  Let’s not forget TEs Fred Davis (59 REC, 796 YRS) and Chris Cooley along with RBs Roy Helu, 640 YRS in 5 games started, and Tim Hightower.  The offensive line gave up 41 sacks last season but you’d figure Griffin’s scrambling ability would help reduce that number as Grossman/Beck were statues.

Defense:  Considering the number of turnovers the defenses 13th ranking isn’t so bad and 21st in points allowed (22.9) is a little less egregious.  LB London Fletcher had 166 tackles, even at 36, last season while second year player DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan and book-end Brian Orakpo had 16.5 sacks between them.

Analysis: Coach Mike Shanahan may finally have a team that can make some noise this season and beyond.  The Skins are in a tough division and will have to deal with breaking in a rookie QB but they have enough talent to be respectable and should improve over last season.

22) Arizona Cardinals

Offense:  Question one is who will start at QB, John Skelton (5-2) or Kevin Kolb (3-6)?  One of Kolb’s wins came when he left after an injury in the first quarter against the 49ers.  Skelton led the team to victory going 19-28, 282 YRS, 3 TD, 2 INT.  The Cards traded CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second round pick to acquire Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles.  They then signed Kolb to a five year $64 million contract, so they have much invested in him to succeed.  2010 fifth round pick Skelton proved to be the better QB down the stretch of 2011 as Kolb dealt with a multitude of injuries including concussions.  The Cards did draft WR Michael Floyd (#13) to play with All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald (80 REC, 1,411 YRS).  The Cardinals offensive line gave up 54 sacks last season and they did little to address the o-line problems but RB Beanie Wells did have over 1,000 yards in 14 games.

Defense:  The Cards were middle of the road on defense 17th in points per game (21.8) and 19th in yards (355.1).  There only major lose in the off-season was DB Richard Marshall (78 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INT) who went to Miami. Second year CB/punt returner Patrick Peterson had an excellent rookie year with 4 touchdowns on punt returns, 64 tackles and 2 interceptions.  The defense did have 42 sacks with DE Calais Campbell leading the team with eight.

Analysis:  The Cardinals were able to overcome poor offensive line play last season to be 8-8.  They beat some good teams Eagles (Road)/Cowboys (Home) even the 13-3, 49ers (Home).  They were 6-2 in their last eight games and had the same record for home games.  If the Cards pick the best QB to lead the team and can improve on their line play they are good enough to fight for second in their division.