By all accounts, the New York Jets hit pay dirt in the 2018 NFL Draft. Now it’s time to see those players on the field, along with a dozen or so promising undrafted free agents and tryout invites.
Not to get political, but Gang Green supporters may wanna consider four more years of Donald Trump — if for no other reason than to keep UK Ambassador Woody Johnson on the other side of the Atlantic. Woody’s younger brother Christopher has been a tremendous front office representative, letting GM Mike Maccagnan pursue his scouting vision, without having to address the owner’s desperate PR need for back-page headlines six months before the season opener.
There’s much to like about Maccagnan’s 2018 NFL Draft class. Darnold has all the physical attributes and leadership traits to develop into an elite QB, and he’s only 20 years old come June. Then, with no second rounders, the Jets got excellent value with each of their other five picks.
All roads lead to 2019. Expect another bumpy ride this season—unless Teddy Bridgewater‘s knee heals and he returns to Pro Bowl form within the next 90 days. Here’s a detailed overview of what to expect at this weekend rookie minicamp.
Next: 5. I Am Sam
5. I Am Sam
All eyes will be on Darnold. The best way to maximize the former USC quarterback’s opportunities would be to cut one or two of the five QBs vying for field reps. That means farewell to Bryce Petty and/or Christian Hackenberg. Perhaps Hack will get a chance to remain on the practice squad.
Realistically, the Jets may have to cut Bridgewater for medical reasons. That would make “player-coach” Josh McCown the opening day starter, with Darnold in reserve. Under such a scenario, 2018 won’t be a “redshirt” season for the green Cali kid straight outta San Juan Capistrano.
New offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates also retained his dual role as quarterbacks coordinator. That means that his fingerprints were all over the move to surpass Josh Rosen and Josh Allen.
Please don’t over-think what you see on the field from Darnold this weekend at One Jets Drive. He’ll be throwing passes to, and against, players who won’t be on the final roster once all is said and done.
Next: 4. Oh Canada!
4. Oh Canada!
Unlike Jersey boy Wilkerson, the Canadian-bred Shepherd’s relentless and hard-working. Unable to afford British Columbia’s Simon Frazier College, he dropped out and spent two years working at an Ontario plant nursery before landing a gridiron gig in the cornfields of Kansas. At Fort Hays State, he decimated Division II competition, wrecking plays from all sides of the D-line.
Critics complain about this pick, saying that it’s wrong to invest in a 25-year-old rookie. But by avoiding two seasons of football damage, his body’s been spared. They also talk about the huge uptick in NFL competition, and that it will take him time to adjust to the speed of the pro game. However, Shepherd dominated at this year’s Senior Bowl before breaking his hand.
Coach Bowles seems excited to throw Shepherd into the fray, beginning this Friday at the Atlantic Health Training Center. Most prognosticators saw the 315 lb.-er as a Top 50 Big Board talent, with “violent” pass-rushing skills. Jets fans will come to embrace this baller.
Next: 3. Tighten Up
3. Tighten Up
When you’ve got six tight ends, you’ve got no tight ends. This situation speaks volumes about what the organization ultimately thought of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Maccagnan invested so much time and effort on the former first-round reclamation project, yet he wouldn’t budge on his offer above two-years/$8 million. No more blaming the replay officials for botched TD receptions.
Fourth-rounder Christopher Herndon IV was another solid value pick. If not for a late-season MCL injury, the 6’4″ 253 lb. Miami Hurricane would’ve gone much earlier. He’s said to be on the mend, and there were reports of Herndon rising fast in the days before the draft.
Herndon is an excellent receiver and a solid blocker, and if fully recovered, could conceivably find himself starting from Game One. Eric Tomlinson should make this roster as that proverbial sixth O-lineman. But what has Jordan Leggett done to earn a spot? This writer projects a dark horse proven NFLer as the opening starter; recently signed ex-Hurricane and Raider Clive Walford.
Next: 2. 6-6-6
The last time the Jets selected three sixth-rounders, former GM John Idzik made one of his few positive moves, selecting Quincy Enunwa as the final pick of that round. In the 2018 Draft, Maccagnan may have dealt a winning hand, with three viable future contributors.
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Parry Nickerson has all the makings of a legit NFL cornerback. Opposing college QBs rarely threw his way, yet the Tulane sprinter still had 16 career INTs. Were it not for injuries, he too would have been picked higher. The 5’11” Nickerson projects to replace the 5’9″ Buster Skrine at the nickel — and with a strong statement this weekend could press his case for early field time.
Folorunso Fatukasi is a raw, beefy nose tackle who should be the heir apparent to 30-something Steve McLendon. “Foley” — a four-year UConn starter from Far Rockaway via Beach Channel High School — may be that high-motor, up-the-middle disruptor this team has lacked since Snacks Harrison fled for freedom across the MetLife parking lot.
Trenton Cannon is the first Virginia State Trojan drafted in 48 years. The un-recruited walk-on rushed for a school-record 4,030 yards in three seasons. For an NFL running back, he’s undersized (5’11”, 185 lb.) and needs to build muscle mass. But he’s explosive (a blistering 4.40 in the 40), with mad kick-return skills (leading the nation with 33.7 per return and two TDs). The Division II star’s highlight tape is unreal. No surprise that days after taking Trenton, the Jets cut last year’s kick-returner Jojo Natson. We’re gonna love this find.
Maccagnan’s most under-the-radar move may bring the most benefit — swapping their seventh-rounder for oft-injured Colts DE Henry Anderson. If the former Stanford star fails his physical, the Colts will replace that draft pick in 2019. But the 2015 third-rounder is one of the league’s better young run-stoppers. So if Anderson can overcome last year’s life-threatening throat injury, he will team with Leonard Williams in a ferocious tandem. Talk about low-risk, high-value!
Next: 1. The Unwanted
1. The Unwanted
Maccagnan and his staff did a very nice job in the days following the draft. That means we’re gonna also observe quite a few interesting undrafted free agents and tryout invites this weekend.
Priority free agent Oklahoma fullback Dimitri Flowers has a shot to make this team. Unlike feel-good converted-DT Lawrence Thomas, Flowers can run and catch the ball, and he excels in H-back schemes. But he must show something at minicamp if he expects an invitation to training camp.
Three intriguing Auburn starters will get a chance to prove themselves: O-lineman Austin Golson and Darius James, and inside linebacker Tre’ Williams. There’s also much to like about Texas Tech DT Mych Thomas, bruising Cal RB Vic Enwere and Middle Tennessee booter Canon Rooker.
LB Darrian Bass, younger brother of the recently re-signed David Bass — both from that football powerhouse Missouri Western — has earned a chance. Locals may love Ivy League stud DT Lord Hyeamang, who excelled uptown at Columbia, alma mater of Josh Martin.
At best, one or two tryout players from this weekend will receive a camp invite; from last year’s tryout pool, only practice squad guard Ben Braden remains with the organization. Among the more compelling names in town will be Iowa RB James Butler and WR Matt VandeBerg, Albany DE Malachi Hoskins, Jacksonville State tackle Justin Lea, Montana safety Justin Strong, Stony Brook safety Tyrice Beverette, and East Stroudsburg long-snapper Dennis Long. In the upcoming days, gridiron dreams will be fulfilled or broken. Feel confident that tape-room geek “Trader Mike” has discovered a few proverbial diamonds in the rough.