The 2018 NFL Draft was a pivotal point in Mike Maccagnan’s tenure running the New York Jets front office. The team had plenty of misses in their first two classes (2015 and 2016), looked to rebound nicely in 2017, but were still without the slightest resemblance of a candidate as a franchise quarterback.
After an aggressive trade up to find a solution to that problem, the Jets left draft night with their number one ranked signal caller in Sam Darnold.
While the instant rookie starter has been through plenty of ups and downs this year, he’s understandably stolen the spotlight from the rest of the class.
Let’s break down how the Jets rookies have performed at the halfway point.
Sam Darnold, QB, Third Overall Pick (1st round)
Stats: 138/250 (55.2%), 1,705 passing yards, 61 rushing yards, 12 total touchdowns, 11 total turnovers
When Darnold heard his name called on draft night, he wasn’t even old enough to have a beer. That didn’t stop the Jets from implementing a plan for him to start right away, assuming he showed the role wasn’t too big for him.
At the halfway point of his rookie season, it’s safe to say the Jets made the right call in getting him game action as soon as possible.. Even through the turnovers Darnold has shown flashes of why a majority of the league felt he was the most talented quarterback prospect in last year’s loaded class.
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 8, 2018
While he can’t control the conservative game plans, the ups and downs of the offensive line or the health of the skill position groups, the moment hasn’t looked too big for the rookie signal caller.
The turnovers were expected, just like the flashes of brilliance. Now it’s about building momentum in the second half of this season, hopefully where he’ll be allowed to push the ball down the field more often.
First half grade: B
Nathan Shepherd, DL, 72nd overall pick (3rd round)
Stats: Five tackles
It’s been a very quiet first half for the Jets third round pick. Oddly enough, it’s not due to Shepherd struggling, but more because of Henry Anderson’s success keeping him off the field.
Top notch pursuit from Nathan Shepherd on this stop – dude can move for a 315+ pound DL pic.twitter.com/598o7HKMvO
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) August 11, 2018
The rookie defensive lineman out of Fort Hays State had a strong camp and preseason, but he’s only played around 37% of the defensive snaps this year. He’s held his own against the run, rarely ever looking out of place.
Unfortunately he hasn’t offered much as a pass rusher, which is what the Jets desperately need most right now up front. This might be a limited rotational year as a rookie for Shepherd, who just turned 25.
First half grade: C+
Chris Herndon, TE, 107th overall pick (4th round)
Stats: 12 receptions, 161 receiving yards and three touchdowns
Herndon missed a lot of time in August due to injury, but he’s really turned things on in the regular season.
He’s played around 53% of the offensive snaps, becoming a huge factor in both the red zone and as a reliable blocker.
The Darnold to Herndon rookie connection is real – the timing between these two in the red zone has been on point pic.twitter.com/VjaEoq1O4v
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 29, 2018
A gigantic fair criticism of the Mike Maccagnan era has been failure to find starting caliber players in the middle rounds. Herndon is looking to help break that trend as he has the makeup to be a complete tight end.
First half grade: A-
Parry Nickerson, CB, 179th overall pick (6th round)
Stats: 21 tackles, one pass broken up
With Buster Skrine missing time this season, Nickerson has surprisingly played the same amount of defensive snaps as Nathan Shepherd. The key difference is in Todd Bowles defense, the slot corner spot is a much higher pressure situation.
As expected, the play of the sixth rounder out of Tulane has been all over the place. Nickerson has great speed and is a solid tackler considering his size, but miscommunications and penalties have cost him at times.
First half grade: C+
Foley Fatukasi, NT, 180th overall pick (6th round)
Stats: *No games played yet
With Mike Pennel and Steve McLendon holding things down on the interior of the defensive line, there has been no need to have Foley Fatukasi active yet.
This was a confusing pick at the time as the former UConn defensive tackle has plenty of talent to contain the run, but was far from a need for the Jets.
Either way, here’s a reminder of what he can do when he actually does get the opportunity to suit up:
More power at NT on this rush from Fatukasi, forced the QB out pic.twitter.com/2BFGzkknzu
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) May 9, 2018
First half grade: N/A
Trenton Cannon, RB, 204th overall pick (6th round)
Stats: 14 carries, 29 rushing yards, eight receptions, 87 receiving yards
There were two hopes when Cannon was selected on day three last Spring: add speed and find a consistent return man.
The first has been a hit, the second has been a gigantic whiff. The former Virginia State running back has been a disaster when put in punt return situations. Let’s be clear here though: that’s bad scouting as this wasn’t his specialty in college.
On the bright side, he certainly adds speed as a gadget player for the offense. They should look to get him involved more in the passing attack and on reverses,
First half grade: C-