Redrafting the New York Jets 2018 draft class
By Justin Fried
The New York Jets were able to hit on a couple of their 2018 draft picks while the jury is still out on some of them. Here’s what would happen if the team were to do it all over and draft again.
During the offseason, it could be fun to look back and analyze where the New York Jets succeeded and failed in their past season while also looking ahead to the future. Given that 2018 was a year dedicated to the development of their young players, it could be fair to start with an assessment of the team’s draft class.
The Jets looked to continue to add to their pre-existing foundation of young, promising players with their 2018 draft class. While they were able to snag a couple of strong building blocks, the remainder of the class is still up in the air.
But what if the Jets were given the benefit of hindsight? What if the Jets were given the chance to redraft their entire class with the knowledge that they and the whole football world know now?
That’s exactly what we’re set to find out.
For the sake of this exercise, there will be no additional trades and the Jets will select players from the spots where they initially drafted. Moreover, all players, including those who went undrafted, will be available to be selected. Meaning that you should expect to see at least one rookie free agent wind up a draft pick of the Jets.
Let’s take a look at what the new and improved Jets 2018 draft class would look like if they were given the opportunity to do it all over again.
Round 1, Pick 3 – Sam Darnold, QB
Even with the benefit of hindsight, there’s no changing this pick. The New York Jets look like they got it right with Sam Darnold as the USC product looks well on his way to being the franchise quarterback the team hopes he will be.
Darnold didn’t get off to a picture-perfect start leading the NFL with 14 interceptions through the first nine games of his NFL career. The first-round pick was inconsistent with his passing and forced passes too often leading to an abundance of turnovers.
But a Week 9 foot injury proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Darnold returned with a vengeance throwing for six touchdowns and just one interception over the final four games of the year. This was with a league-worst 32nd ranked rushing attack over that span and a supporting cast that resembled a practice squad more than an active NFL roster.
At just 21-years-old, Darnold looks well on his way to stardom. Another year of development could push him into the conversation of the top young signal-callers in the league if he isn’t already there.
Other quarterbacks who were considered here were Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Arizona’s Josh Rosen, and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. But with Baker Mayfield off the board, there’s no player the team would have rather had than the man who they initially selected.
The Jets nailed this one.
Next: Round 3, Pick 72
Round 3, Pick 72 – Da’Shawn Hand, DL
WIth obvious needs at other positions, the Jets made the curious decision to draft defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd with their third-round pick this past season. Unfortunately, the Fort Hays State product failed to live up to expectations.
Shepherd began the year as the team’s starting defensive end opposite Leonard Williams but conceded more and more snaps as the weeks went on to the overachieving Henry Anderson. Eventually, Shepherd turned into a rotational run-stopper who played only sparingly.
With only one game where he recorded more than one total tackle, it’s safe to say that Shepherd was a disappointment in 2018. Now comes the fun part, which player should the team have taken instead?
While it would be nice to address a position of need such as an edge rusher or offensive lineman, there’s no one left that really excelled in 2018. With that, the Jets can address the same position but actually get it right this time.
Da’Shawn Hand had a very impressive rookie season with the Detroit Lions and was selected over a full round after Shepherd was taken. Hand finished with 27 tackles, three sacks, and four tackles for loss in just 13 games played. A knee injury, unfortunately, forced him to miss the final three games of his rookie campaign but he should be back to full strength come the 2019 season.
Hand also received an impressive 87.3 grade from Pro Football Focus, ranking him as the No. 13 interior defensive lineman in the league. Conversely, Shepherd’s grade was over 20 points lower and he was ranked as the No. 80 interior defensive lineman in the NFL.
The Alabama product was one of the steals of the later rounds and would’ve been a perfect fit for the Jets new 4-3 defense under Gregg Williams. Instead, the Jets drafted the soon-to-be 26-year-old Shepherd who may struggle to crack the lineup in 2019.
Not the crowning achievement of the 2018 draft class.
Next: Round 4. Pick 107
Round 4, Pick 107 – Chris Herndon, TE
Once again the Jets made the right choice with the selection of tight end Chris Herndon in the fourth round. Don’t be fooled, the New York Jets 2018 draft class was very hit or miss. It just so happens that their two major “hits” were pretty significant.
Herndon joins Darnold as another Jets draft pick gone right as the rookie tight end was able to put together a very strong rookie campaign. The Miami product finished with 502 receiving yards on 39 catches and four touchdowns, finishing second on the team in each category.
This is in spite of the fact that Herndon only started 12 games with the incumbent Neal Sterling beginning the year as the starter, only to be placed on the injured reserve.
In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that Herndon was the most productive rookie tight end leading all rookies at his position in receptions and touchdowns. Only Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens was able to top him in yards edging him out by just 50.
Herndon looks to be a key part of the Jets offense going forward and might already be the team’s best tight end since the days of Dustin Keller. His chemistry with Darnold should only continue to grow making this pick an easy one to make.
A receiver such as DaeSean Hamilton or cornerbacks like Taron Johnson and Avonte Maddox could have been considered here but without Herndon, the Jets tight end group would have been lost in 2018.
Next: Round 6, Pick 179
Round 6, Pick 179 – Phillip Lindsay, RB
In a redraft of the entire 2018 draft class, there is no chance that Phillip Lindsay would make it this far. But in this fantasy scenario, only the New York Jets are given the hindsight superpower so they snag Lindsay here in the sixth round.
This pick was initially cornerback Parry Nickerson and while the Tulane product could still turn into a starting nickel corner down the line, Lindsay is undoubtedly the better player. 32 teams drafted a total of 256 players and somehow, Lindsay wasn’t one of them.
The Colorado product signed on with his hometown Denver Broncos and it didn’t take long for him to prove his doubters wrong. Lindsay finished the 2018 season with 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns on just 192 carries for a fantastic 5.4 yards per carry.
For his spectacular efforts, Lindsay was voted to the Pro Bowl making him the first undrafted offensive rookie to ever be selected to a Pro Bowl in his first NFL season. Lindsay and fellow rookie running back Royce Freeman combined to make a modern-day thunder and lightning tandem in the backfield proving to be great compliments to each other.
The 2018 Jets could have used someone of Lindsay’s talent as the team averaged the fourth-fewest yards per carry last season. Not only that, but the 24-year-old was an excellent receiver hauling in 35 catches for 241 yards in his rookie season. Lindsay also served as one of the better blockers out of all of Denver’s running backs, something the Jets struggled with after Bilal Powell‘s season-ending injury.
If the NFL was given a chance to redraft the 2018 draft, it’s safe to say that every team would be all over Lindsay in earlier rounds. But in this case, the Jets luck out and get a steal in the sixth round.
Next: Round 6, Pick 180
Round 6, Pick 180 – Levi Wallace, CB
With the second of their back-to-back sixth-round selections, the New York Jets decide to address the secondary with Alabama cornerback Levi Wallace.
Much like Lindsay, Wallace went undrafted in our reality and was picked up by the Buffalo Bills. While Wallace’s basic statistics don’t jump out immediately, a closer look at his analytics tells a different story.
Pro Football Focus gave Wallace a stellar 83.5 grade which ranked as the No. 4 outside cornerback in the NFL. Per PFF, the Alabama product allowed no more than two catches over the seven games he played and started. In total, Wallace allowed just eight catches on 14 targets in over 130 coverage snaps.
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He may have been the best rookie most NFL fans had never heard of.
Given the Jets selection of Nickerson just one pick earlier, it definitely stings a bit that the team wasn’t able to see the talent that Wallace had. At the same time, it’s not like the other 31 NFL franchises saw it either.
To put it bluntly, the Jets cornerbacks are a bit of a mess at the moment. Trumaine Johnson was a major disappointment in his first season with the team and the penalty-prone Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine are set to be free agents.
Wallace would provide stability and youth to a Jets cornerback room that lacks either. He looks well on his way to being one of the better cornerbacks in the league and would have been a great addition to the Jets defense.
Unfortunately, the Jets real selection of defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi didn’t work out quite as well for them.
Next: Round 6, Pick 204
Round 6, Pick 204 – Equanimeous St. Brown, WR
With their final selection in this 2018 NFL re-draft, the New York Jets select wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.
The team’s lack of true depth at the receiver position was highlighted in 2018 as they lost both Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa for chunks of the season. In their places, players like Andre Roberts and Charone Peake were forced to play meaningful snaps on offense which certainly wasn’t good for the development of Sam Darnold.
The Jets could give themselves a high-upside, athletically gifted receiver here with the selection of St. Brown. In reality, the Notre Dame product was taken just three picks later by the Green Bay Packers and proved to be more NFL ready this season than first anticipated.
St. Brown played in 12 games for the Packers, starting seven, and hauling in 21 catches for 328 yards. Not bad for a sixth-round draft pick with numerous red flags coming out of college. St. Brown was criticized for being complacent at times and never seemed to fulfill his potential at South Bend.
But if his 2018 season with the Packers is any indication, St. Brown could develop nicely into a solid starting receiver if given the chance. In this scenario, St. Brown would be given that exact chance with injuries and the poor play of Jermaine Kearse allowing him the opportunity to be a feature receiver for the team.
The Jets used this pick to draft running back Trenton Cannon in our reality and while Cannon flashed as a special teamer and showed promise as a tailback, the selection of Phillip Lindsay makes him expendable. Other players such as Buffalo’s Robert Foster were considered but his skill set is too similar to that of Robby Anderson making that pick less appealing.
St. Brown would give the Jets depth and youth at the receiver position all with a player who may be finally scratching the surface of his true talent potential.