Breaking down the New York Jets' 2018 draft class.
Round 1, No. 3 overall: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
My take: Did the football gods, angry at the Jets for nearly a half-century, just extend an olive branch in the form of Sam Darnold? Maybe so. After weeks -- no, months -- of being linked to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 1 overall pick, Darnold fell into the Jets' pleading hands. With UCLA's Josh Rosen and Wyoming's Josh Allen still on the board, the Jets couldn't pass on the former USC star, who has the arm, legs and temperament to be a franchise quarterback. Darnold needs some seasoning, to be sure, but he's the safest quarterback prospect in the draft. The Jets didn't suck enough for Sam, as it turned out, but they got him anyway. The Darnold era has begun.
Oh, those turnovers: The Jets believe last season was an aberration for Darnold, who tied for the FBS lead with 22 turnovers -- 13 interceptions and nine fumbles. The last thing they need is another highly drafted USC quarterback with ball-security issues (see: Mark Sanchez). Darnold's 36 turnovers the past two seasons were five more than any other FBS player; SMU quarterback Ben Hicks was second with 31. Perhaps pressing because of huge expectations, Darnold was jittery in the pocket and made poor decisions in a few games last season. He got into some bad habits and he'll need to be coached out of them, which leads you to believe he could spend all or part of the season on the bench.
Big upside: After reading the turnover stats, you're probably wondering, "Why did they draft him?" A lot of reasons. He's a winner (20-4 as a starter). He has innate ability to find throwing windows before they open. He's accurate. He can extend plays. He thrives in clutch situations. He's respected by teammates. He's a gym rat. He has a laid-back, "What, me worry?" attitude, which will serve him well in New York. Don't get too caught up in the turnover stat. Matt Ryan also had 22 turnovers in his final season at Boston College and he went on to become the league MVP in 2016.
Round 3, No. 72 overall, Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State
My take: Sometimes it’s as simple as this: There simply aren’t many 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive linemen with the strength and athleticism that Shepherd possesses. Born and raised in Canada, Shepherd fell in love with football and was determined to play in the United States. Financial issues forced him to take two years off from college football. The fact he never gave up says a lot about his tenacity.
What it means: The Jets once had what many thought was one of the best young defensive lines in the NFL. They traded Sheldon Richardson and waived Mo Wilkerson, leaving Leonard Williams to face a constant double-team. Shepherd, whom the Jets project as a DE in a 3-4, could free up Williams. Jets coach Todd Bowles said he has heavy hands and believes once Shepherd gets through training camp he’ll be ready to be in the rotation.
How he fits: The Eagles showed the importance of having great depth and talent on the defensive line. That’s what the Jets need to build. Shepherd started his career at Simon Fraser College, a Canadian power. He worked at a plant nursery and an industrial carton factory, often working the graveyard shift, before enrolling at Division II Fort Hays. How does he fit? As a diamond in the rough.
"These are the guys that you kind of get excited about," Jets GM Mike Maccagnan said. "That although they’re slightly older, they’re kind of interesting guys that aren’t in the normal path of high school to college and big programs and stuff like that."
Round 4, No. 107 overall, Chris Herndon, TE, Miami
My take: If Herndon had not suffered an MCL injury in his left knee in late November, he almost surely would have been drafted on Day 2. At 6-foot-4 and 253 pounds, Herndon was a high school basketball star until, in his words, he got too strong for the sport. He won’t stretch the field like Penn State’s Mike Gesicki but Herndon can get off the line and work the middle of the field.
What it means: The Jets are intent on getting more athletic and accomplish that with this pick. Herndon said he thinks he’s as good as any tight end in this draft and only slid to the fourth round because of the knee injury. He said he’s been doing full workouts, running and cutting. Overall, the Jets' group of receivers doesn’t strike fear. Herndon averaged 11.9 yards on 40 catches at Miami last season.
How he fits: With Austin Seferian-Jenkins having signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets don’t have a tight end on the roster with more than eight catches. Remember, they drafted Sam Darnold with their first pick and rookie QBs usually love to go to the tight end because it's a safe throws.
Round 6, No. 179 overall, Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane
My take: There is no substitute for speed and Nickerson can run to the corner deli and back before the front door closes. He ran a 4.32 at the combine. There also is no substitute for confidence. Ask Nickerson what he does well and he says, “I’m a consistent lockdown playmaker.’’ Speed and confidence.
What it means: The Jets had 11 interceptions last season. Nickerson had 16 for his career, including six last season. The Jets signed Trumaine Johnson to a five-year, $72 million free-agent deal and retained Mo Claiborne on a one-year free-agent deal so the starting corners are set. They could benefit from some young cornerback talent to bring along with the two safeties -- Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams -- whom they drafted last season.
How he fits: Nickerson has blistering speed but he doesn’t have size. At 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, Nickerson isn’t going to win many battles at the line and he’s going to have difficulty with physical receivers. Nickerson said he’s never played the nickel. Translation: He has a lot of growing to do in terms of his stature and ability to move around. But speed can compensate for a lot of shortcomings.
Round 6, No. 180 overall, Folorunso Fatukasi, DL, Connecticut
My take: This could be the ultimate "hometown boy makes good" story. Fatukasi is from Queens. He was surrounded by friends and family when the phone rang, creating what he described as a surreal moment. “Right now, I’m just trying to catch my breath while talking because it was a long day, like man, ‘When is my phone going to ring?’ This is such a great feeling.’’ The Jets get a 6-foot-4, 318-pound prospect who was highly productive in college.
What it means to the team: The Jets list five defensive linemen on their depth chart. The Eagles rotated eight quality linemen. When Brandon Graham sacked Tom Brady, the Eagles had their first Super Bowl title. Some projections had Fatukasi going as high as the fourth round so this might be a bargain for the Jets. The fact he’s considered a leader and a quality person that won’t keep the GM up at night shouldn’t be dismissed at a franchise that is trying to develop a more professional culture.
How he fits: When asked if he thinks he’s a better fit at nose tackle or end, Fatukasi deferred to the coaching staff. He has the versatility to play inside (168 tackles) or outside (19 tackles for loss; 14 sacks). Although he’s not fast, he does have good initial burst. He ran a 1.76 in the 10-yard split and a 4.53 in the short shuttle. Fatukasi and third-round pick Nathan Shepherd might help Jets fans forget Sheldon Richardson and Mo Wilkerson.
Round 6, No. 204 overall, Trenton Cannon, RB/R, Virginia State
My take: When the Jets selected Division II star Nathan Stephen in the third round of the NFL draft, GM Mike Maccagnan spoke glowingly about the excitement of finding off-the-radar prospects. Apparently Maccagnan really enjoys that thrill and feels comfortable enough in his fourth draft to take another shot. Cannon only had one partial scholarship offer coming out of high school -- Shepherd University -- and that didn't work out. The speedster is unlikely to make the roster unless he shows he can return anything kicked to him.
What it means to the team: The Jets obviously weren't going to let any stone go unturned in their desire to become more athletic. At 5-10, 185 pounds, Cannon ran a 4.4 40 and he accounted for 1,863 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing and receiving. But it's his ability to return punts and kickoffs that holds meaning to the Jets. Nothing can turn a game like special teams play. Ask the Jets who cut Kalif Raymond last season after he muffed three punts in two games.
How he fits: You can see the back page of the New York tabloids -- Shot Out of A Cannon! The Jets averaged 4.5 yards per punt return last season, lowest in the NFL. They signed former Atlanta Falcon Andre Roberts in March to try to address that need. Cannon returned 39 kicks for 1,270 yards and touchdowns in his last two seasons.