After another lost New York Jets season, it’s time to evaluate this 53-man roster. This daily ranking continues with No. 15, defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd.
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound 25-year-old college senior from Division II Fort Hays State (via Vancouver’s Simon Fraser) wowed at the Senior Bowl with his physically dominant blend of size, strength, and power.
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But some league experts disliked what they saw, insisting that he was too old and slow with a limited growth curve.
Following a nondescript rookie campaign — in which he was exposed as a liability against the run with obvious tackling deficiencies — Shepherd started 2019 on the suspended list after two failed blood tests for performance-enhancing drugs while recovering from both shoulder surgery and a groin injury.
The new Jets regime deserve considerable credit for their patience — and for allowing Shepherd a second chance. After all, the defensive lineman was badly needed during the season’s disastrous 1-6 start.
Earlier in the year, Adam Gase and Gregg Williams were not shy about discussing their displeasure with their benched player’s decisions.
Shepherd had the following to say to NFL Network earlier in the season regarding his suspension.
“I’m grateful to the league for showing some understanding, leniency and fairness, and I appreciate them dealing with it in a timely manner. I’m grateful to Jets GM Joe Douglas, the personnel staff and Coach [Adam] Gase, Gregg Williams, Blake Williams and Andre Carter and the Jets’ training staff for their support and their transparency in supporting me through this and, despite this happening, granting me the opportunity to come in every day and earn my spot on the 53-man roster. I feel like I used eight of my nine lives. I kind of have to treat it like I have a peanut allergy — if I get one more, it’s going to be over for me. That’s just my reality and I accept that.”
In all, Shepherd sat out the season’s first eight games. But then he returned with a vengeance — with a solid second half of 2019, amassing six solo tackles, five TFLs, and two sacks performing as a rotational player in for just 35 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
He excelled against the pass, with a relentless 14 QB pressures over 134 passing snaps. In all, Shepherd’s 71.3 Pro Football Focus ranking makes him an ascending NFL interior defensive line presence to reckon with.
The Jets’ midseason trade of “future Hall-of-Famer” Leonard Williams to the crosstown rival New York Giants Giants played into Shepherd’s ascension as a key aspect of the New York Jets’ future front-seven.
Consider Williams’ departure from Gang Green a classic case of addition by subtraction.