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New York Jets: Grading the 2018 rookie class after one season

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of of the New York Jets reacts during the fourth quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of of the New York Jets reacts during the fourth quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets reacts during the fourth quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets reacts during the fourth quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The New York Jets 2018 rookie class now officially has one year of experience under their belts. With that, let’s go back and grade the rookies after their first NFL season.

The 2018 NFL season was all about improvement and development for the New York Jets.

The team wasn’t expected to compete — and they didn’t — meaning that this season was more about seeing the growth and maturation of their young players than it was winning. 2018 was intended to be the year where the Jets would build a foundation for future success.

This all started with the 2018 draft class, the team’s young crop of players who would hopefully provide a basis for the roster for years to come. Of course, much of this was centered around rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, but that doesn’t mean that the others wouldn’t be counted on as well.

Due to various trades, the Jets only had three picks in the top five rounds and only one in the top 70. Still, the Jets six draft picks, plus their undrafted rookies, were asked to take on bigger roles this season due to injuries and a lack of overall talent.

Let’s take a look and see how each of the Jets rookies performed in 2018.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 15: Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets under pressure against the Houston Texans during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 15, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 15: Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets under pressure against the Houston Texans during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 15, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Round 1 – QB Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold’s rookie season was a tale of two halves.

Although Darnold got off to a hot start with his first game in Detroit, the rookie struggled for much of the first half of the season even leading the league in interceptions at a point with 14 interceptions through nine games. He made poor decisions and seemed willing to force the ball into tight windows or windows that weren’t even cracked.

All of this was simply a part of the growing pains for a young quarterback, however. Darnold is just 21-years old and was expected to struggle early on with turnovers as most quarterbacks tend to do. At the same time, the Jets needed to see improvement.

And improvement is just what they got as once Darnold returned from an injury that cost him three starts, the USC product looked every part of a franchise quarterback. Darnold threw six touchdowns and only one interception over the final four weeks, even with a depleted supporting cast around him.

The prized first-round pick looked more confident and wise than the early-season version of himself which is good news for Jets fans looking for maturation. It should also be noted that one of Darnold’s largest issues from college, fumbling concerns, essentially disappeared once he came to the NFL showing his ability to adapt and learn from past mistakes.

Darnold’s rookie season should give the Jets organization and fans confidence that the correct selection was made, even if they may be snakebit from previous draft failures.

Rest easy Jets fans, it looks like the team got this one right.

Final Grade: B

Next: Nathan Shepherd

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Nathan Shepherd #97 of the New York Jets reacts before a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Nathan Shepherd #97 of the New York Jets reacts before a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Round 3 – DL Nathan Shepherd

Nathan Shepherd entered the 2018 regular season with a ton of hype but ultimately failed to live up to the preseason buzz.

Shepherd began the season as the team’s starting defensive end opposite Leonard Williams only leaving the field on third downs. However, by the season’s end, Henry Anderson had assumed the starting role and Shepherd was reserved to a role player.

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That’s not the process of “growth” you typically want to see from your rookie third-round pick. Generally, rookies receive more playing time as the season goes on, not less. But a quick look at his numbers and it’s easy to see why the Jets made the choice they did.

Shepherd’s season stats look more like a binary pattern than actual game logs.

The Fort Hays State product had either one or zero tackles in every game he played in but one, a five-tackle performance against Buffalo that really came out of nowhere. He finished with just five quarterback hits, one tackle for loss, and zero sacks.

Shepherd provided next to nothing as a pass rusher and was nearly invisible against the run. On top of that, Shepherd will turn 26-years-old by the second week of the 2019 season making this pick a bit of a head-scratcher.

Perhaps Shepherd can turn his career around but his lackluster rookie campaign didn’t do much to inspire positivity. And as a top 75 draft selection, this pick has to be seen as a failure for now.

Final Grade: D

Next: Chris Herndon

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 23: Chris Herndon #89 of the New York Jets scores a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 23: Chris Herndon #89 of the New York Jets scores a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Round 4 – TE Chris Herndon

The Jets have lacked a true impact player at the tight end position for years now but if 2018 was any indicator, they may have found their guy in Chris Herndon.

Herndon entered the preseason battling for the starting tight end job with the likes of Jordan Leggett and Neal Sterling. Although the latter initially won the job, injuries forced Herndon into the role and he never looked back.

The Miami product seemed to develop quite a bit of chemistry with Darnold as the season went on and finished the season as the Jets second-leading receiver behind only Robby Anderson. Herndon also finished first among all rookie tight ends in receptions and touchdowns establishing himself as one of the best tight ends from the entire 2018 rookie class.

A highlight reel one-handed catch in the team’s Week 16 matchup against the Green Bay Packers was just the icing on the cake of a great rookie season. If all goes to plan, the Jets should have their best tight end since Dustin Keller and a true target to build around on offense.

Apart from Darnold, Herndon was easily the Jets player with the most impactful rookie season and as a fourth-round pick, that’s some pretty impressive value.

Final Grade: B+

Next: Parry Nickerson

JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Parry Nickerson #43 of the New York Jets works out on the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 30: Parry Nickerson #43 of the New York Jets works out on the field before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Round 6 – CB Parry Nickerson

Parry Nickerson is a player who may not have seen the most in-game action in 2018, but could still be a big part of the Jets plans going forward into 2019 and beyond.

Nickerson was drafted to be the heir-apparent to the incumbent Buster Skrine as the team’s nickel cornerback. Due to injuries in the defensive secondary, Nickerson was given some opportunities to play meaningful snaps but ultimately did little to impress.

The Tulane product started two games and played in all 16, but only really saw significant playing time during Weeks 5-7. Nickerson looked overmatched and at times played too aggressively against opposing receivers picking up numerous penalties.

The speedy cornerback still performed well on special teams and showed enough to indicate that he could have a future in a starting role with the team. If the Jets don’t bring back Skrine, who is set to be a free agent, and opt not to replace him in the offseason, Nickerson would be next in line to earn the starting slot corner job.

For now, his future impact is up in the air. At the very least, there’s optimism surrounding the former sixth-round draft choice.

Final Grade: C

Next: Folorunso Fatukasi

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 10: Folorunso Fatukasi #94 of the New York Jets tackles Logan Paulsen #82 of the Atlanta Falcons in the first half during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 10, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 10: Folorunso Fatukasi #94 of the New York Jets tackles Logan Paulsen #82 of the Atlanta Falcons in the first half during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 10, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Round 6 – DL Foloronsu Fatukasi

Foley Fatukasi was the Jets 2018 draft pick who received the least playing time meaning that it’s hard to grade his performance to this point. Still, it’s fair to analyze the draft pick and see if it makes sense with the benefit of hindsight.

The Fatukasi selection was always a bit questionable given that the Jets had other needs to address (offensive line, wide receiver, etc.) and instead opted to double-up on interior defensive linemen. Given the little impact that Shepherd had this past year, it’s amazing to think that Fatukasi was barely even able to sniff the field.

The Connecticut product played in just one game, a late November matchup against New England, and recorded no statistics. One would think that the Jets would do everything they could do get their young players playing time as the season came to a close but Fatukasi remained entrenched on the team’s bench.

This is indicative of the Jets faith in his abilities as well as his perceived future with the team. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for his future with the Jets. Expect Fatukasi to compete for a back-end roster spot come 2019.

Final Grade: D

Next: Trenton Cannon

NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 2: Trenton Cannon #40 of the New York Jets runs with the ball against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 2: Trenton Cannon #40 of the New York Jets runs with the ball against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Round 6 – RB Trenton Cannon

The Jets dug deep into their collection of college football draft prospects with their selection of Virginia State running back Trenton Cannon in the sixth round of last year’s draft. Given the little expectations placed upon him, it’s fair to say that he performed quite well.

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Cannon was expected to compete for the kick and punt return duties in preseason but ball security concerns limited him to other roles with the team. Although initially a special teams player exclusively, the speedy running back saw some snaps on offense late in the season after injuries to both Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell.

While Cannon didn’t blow anybody away with his talents, he likely contributed more as a running back than many thought he would. The 24-year-old’s burst was undeniable as Cannon was able to show off his speed both running the football and as a receiver.

Cannon still has a long way to go as a receiver and as a blocker and it’s not like he’s the most accomplished runner either. Still, he didn’t look out of place and it’s possible that he could develop into a quality complimentary back in the future.

At the very least, Cannon impressed as a gunner on punt returns and should be able to stick around in a special teams role, even if it’s not in the role the team initially had planned. Whichever way you slice it, a sixth-round pick who looks prime to contribute to the team in some way in 2019 should be considered a success.

Final Grade: C+

Next: Undrafted Free Agents

CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 28: Deontay Burnett #18 of the New York Jets catches the pass against Kyle Fuller #23 of the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on October 28, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 28: Deontay Burnett #18 of the New York Jets catches the pass against Kyle Fuller #23 of the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on October 28, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Undrafted Free Agents Signings

It’s only fair to show the Jets undrafted rookies of last year some love as they should also be considered a part of the 2018 rookie class. However, this year’s haul leaves little to be desired.

Without a doubt, the most notable undrafted rookie on the Jets this year was wide receiver, Deontay Burnett. Burnett started the year on the team’s practice squad before getting promoted to the active roster in late October.

He showed a bit of chemistry with his USC teammate Darnold late in the season and could have a future with the team as a potential slot receiver. For now, Burnett provides solid depth a position where the Jets have very little.

The only other undrafted rookie to receive any significant playing time was edge rusher Frankie Luvu. Luvu signed with the Jets as a rookie free agent out of Washington State and impressed enough in the preseason to be signed to the practice squad initially. He was soon promoted to the active roster not even a week later.

Luvu ended up playing in 14 games picking up three sacks and an impressive 11 QB hits to go along with five tackles for loss. He also performed well on special teams and should still retain a role on the team, despite the Jets planned defensive scheme changes.

Outside of Burnett and Luvu, the only other undrafted rookies to spend time on the active roster were Anthony Wint, J.J. Jones, and Brandon Bryant who each did next to nothing with their limited opportunities.

Next. Jets 7-Round Mock Draft: Post-Super Bowl Edition

Overall, it was a pretty unimpressive showing from the undrafted rookies especially given how poor the overall talent on the roster was. Only Burnett and Luvu will likely have roles with the team going forward, and even that isn’t a guarantee.

Final Grade: C

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