The New York Jets have a franchise QB. For the second time in three years, the Jets had a USC product that many regarded as the top overall prospect in the draft fall into their lap. After months of rumors and speculations that all but guaranteed the Browns selecting Sam Darnold with the 1st overall pick, they had a change of heart and took Baker Mayfield. So, somehow, despite exceeding expectations last season in the tankathon to the point that they had to trade up in the draft, the New York Jets got the guy they had their eyes on for well over a year.
Round 1, Pick 3: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Sammy Sweetarm. The Samchise. Hey Darnold. Whatever you want to call him, the Jets got their guy. We might not know for 10 years which QB from this crop is ‘the best,’ but many people around the league think that Sam Darnold at the very least has the highest floor. He doesn’t have the biggest arm (Josh Allen), the highest IQ (Josh Rosen), he’s not the fastest (Lamar Jackson), he’s not the outspoken locker room leader (Baker Mayfield), but he’s a winner. He went 20-4 as a starter in his career at USC, and possesses a bit of every aforementioned QBs’ skillsets.
Of course, there are question marks with Darnold. He turned the ball over too much in college. He threw 21 INTs over two years, but his bigger problem was ball security both rushing and in the pocket. He coughed up 9 NINE! fumbles last season. He’s going to have to learn how to know when to go down and to roll out with two hands on the ball, as the competition and ball skills of defenders in the NFL only get better.
Darnold is a tremendous passer inside the numbers and hash, but another concern is whether or not he can make the big time throws outside the numbers and stretch the field. He has above average arm strength, but there are also concerns with his elongated throwing motion, which is problematic for quick routes all over the field. A skilled DB can identify when Darnold is in his throwing motion and that extra fraction of a second that Darnold takes while throwing could be the difference between a first down and six points to the defense. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic; I absolutely love this pick. He’ll be working with Jets OC Jeremy Bates, and he’ll be under Josh McCown’s wing, who is highly regarded as one of the best QB mentors in the NFL. McCown and Darnold are similar in that despite neither having exceptional speed, they both can put their head down and get the tough yards. Both QBs rushed for 5 TDs last season while only recording around 100 yards. Sam Darnold can ball, now it’s up to the Jets to surround him with talent that can both protect him and help him out on the field.
Also, two recent highly touted QBs that entered the league with concerns about their turnovers are Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson. Decent company.
Also, Sam Darnold is EIGHTEEN years younger than Josh McCown.
NFL Comparison – Ben Roethlisberger/Jameis Winston/Carson Palmer
P.S. Good genes.
Round 3, Pick 8: Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State
This was a surprising pick, but in hindsight, I guess it wasn’t too surprising. With the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison) breaking up, the Jets needed a new wave of defensive linemen to rebuild their team mold from the late 2000s/early 2010s. With Mo Wilkerson gone and Sheldon Richardson traded, Leonard Williams was getting double teamed regularly and was absent from many box scores. Steve McClendon was a good find to clog up the A gaps, but he is 32 years old. Shepherd is a feel-good story out of Canada where he had to leave college in order to work several jobs to pay for school. Once he earned enough money, he continued to work late night shifts on top of practicing, working out, and studying. He’s a perfect fit in a locker room that is actively trying to weed out problematic players in efforts to build a more professional atmosphere.
However, as you can see, Shepherd went to Fort Hays State, an unknown D-II school in the middle of Kansas. He is 24 years old, so he was quite literally a man amongst boys. The tape shows that:
There were a LOT of good players still on the board at the time of this pick, so the Jets must really like this guy. It’s entirely possible that the Jets did indeed find a diamond in the rough and think that the jump from D-II to the NFL won’t be too much for Nathan Shepherd. At the very least, Shepherd is a big strong DT that is the heir apparent to Steve McClendon, which in turn will free up Leonard Williams more. The NFL is a copycat league, and the Eagles just won a Super Bowl by rotating eight quality defensive linemen. Perhaps the Jets are following suit.
NFL Comparison – Akiem Hicks
Round 4, Pick 7: Chris Herndon, TE, Miami
After the Jets signed a couple TEs in free agency, I thought that they’d address other concerns during the draft. However, they drafted Chris Herndon IV out of the U to start Day 3. Herndon can pass and block, but is coming off of MCL surgery. Herndon is very similar to Quincy Enunwa, and will probably be utilized as an H back in the slot instead of as a traditional TE with a hand on the ground. He moves effortlessly and is dangerous after the catch.
Also, his new QB loves to throw the ball inside the numbers. Rookie QBs in general like to throw to their TEs as a safety valve. Herndon was the best TE in college inside the numbers last year:
The Jets will need Tight End production this year as much as ever, and Chris Herndon will have ample opportunities to make plays for years to come.
NFL Comparison – Quincy Enunwa/Ricky Seals-Jones
Round 6, Pick 5: Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane
Desperate for depth at corner, the Jets took Parry Nickerson, AKA the fastest guy at the combine. He ran a 4.32 and his speed translates to the game. Despite being a little undersized, Nickerson led all returning CBs in lowest passer rating when targeted last year. As a potential Buster Skrine replacement, that is huge.
Here’s that game speed I was talking about:
NFL Comparison – Jalen Myrick
Round 6, Pick 6: Folorunso Fatukasi, DT, UConn
The Jets took another 6’4″ 315 DT early in the 6th. They’re building defensive line depth and they got a strong one here in Foley Fatukasi. He racked up 13 sacks in his last three years at UConn and was a highly respected leader in the locker room. He is a great guy to bring in to compete for Kony Ealy’s old job immediately. He has some kinks to work out, but then again he is a 6th round pick. The Jets got a great value here.
NFL Comparison – Caleb Brantley
Round 6, Pick 30: Trenton Cannon, RB, Virginia State
Can you say, shot out of a cannon?
The Jets’ second D-II player from this draft is Trenton Cannon, and his last name describes his playing style. He’s undersized but he packs a punch, as you can see with his Leonidas-style drop kick TD. He can be a 3rd down back in the NFL one day, but he’ll probably be used most returning kicks right off the bat. He returned three kicks for TDs in his career at Virginia State, and as long as he can physically catch a kicked ball, Cannon is a step above what the Jets had a KR/PR last season.
NFL Comparison – Non-Primetime Game Darren Sproles
There you have it. Your six new, New York Jets. They have their Quarterback. They have a TE whose game compliments their new QB. They added two big bodies to their defensive line. They drafted the fastest corner and the quickest RB to add depth at two positions that desperately needed some fresh legs.
The Jets didn’t draft any offensive linemen or edge rushers which was a surprise. Both positions were top heavy in this class, so maybe their eyes are dead set on next year’s class, which is highlighted by Nick Bosa.
No matter how good Nathan, Chris, Parry, Foley, and Trenton do in their respective careers, this draft class will be solely graded off of how Sam Darnold performs. He was the top prospect on many people’s boards who fell directly into the Jets’ lap. This is an exciting time for the Jets, as they added the guy they wanted for over a year, even after their unpredictably competitive 5 win 2017 season. They’re rapidly moving in the right direction, and the 2020s should be a hell of a good time. I’m giving the Jets a B+.
And now we wait.