The NY Jets will look to see Nathan Shepherd pick up where he left off last season.
The NY Jets had a number of surprising contributors on defense last season. And perhaps no unit was more surprisingly productive than the defensive line.
From mainstays like Steve McLendon to break-out youngsters such as Folorunso Fatukasi, the Jets’ defensive line exceeded all expectations in 2019. And one player whose production has been quietly overlooked has been Nathan Shepherd.
A third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Shepherd played all 16 games in his rookie season making five starts. However, he failed to make a significant impact when all was said and done.
Perhaps it was the major leap in level of play as Shepherd went from playing in Division-II to the NFL. Or perhaps the Ontario native was simply too raw in his rookie season to play as many snaps as he did.
Either way, it seemed that Shepherd was a potential bust in the making. That notion was furthered following a six-game suspension for PED’s that he used to accelerate his offseason rehab from a sports hernia surgery.
There was even some talk that the Jets could move on from the third-round pick after just one season. And if they opted to do that, few would have likely batted an eye.
But Shepherd returned with a vengeance and put together the best stretch of football of his brief NFL career totaling a pair of sacks in nine games and flashing more than he ever did in his rookie season.
Now going into 2020, he figures to be a key player in the defensive line rotation. But how could he ensure that the upcoming season is a success?
Let’s take a look.
How Nathan Shepherd can find success with the NY Jets in 2020
Shepherd reclaimed his spot in the front-seven rotation quickly upon his return, and the results were immediately promising. The 26-year-old finished with a very solid 71.3 Pro Football Focus grade which included a 70.6 pass-rush grade.
And that right there is what makes him incredibly valuable to this team.
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The likes of McLendon and Fatukasi stepped up in a big way in 2019, but neither offers much as a pass-rusher. The Jets didn’t really have a true interior pass-rush threat last season — Shepherd was honestly the closest thing to it.
Of course, the team will be hoping to see more from former No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams in 2020, but Shepherd remains an important piece of the pass-rush puzzle as well.
It’s also important to remember that despite entering just his third season in the NFL, Shepherd will already turn 27-years-old within the first month of the season. For context, he’s only a few months younger than Jamison Crowder.
Shepherd isn’t exactly someone the Jets can patiently develop. He needs to improve now and continue to provide value as a rotational defensive lineman.
His pass-rush production last season should provide optimism, and that goes beyond his two sacks in nine games. Shepherd finished with a 10.4 percent pressure rate which ranked in the 83rd percentile of qualified defensive linemen, per Jets X-Factor’s Michael Nania.
He wasn’t just capitalizing on opportunities, he was creating opportunities for others.
If Shepherd can continue to flash that excellent pass-rush production over a full 16-game season, the Jets could have one of the better rotational interior pass-rushers in the NFL.
And on a Jets team starved for any sort of pass-rush help, they’ll take it anywhere they can get it.
Shepherd will look to prove that his nine-game stretch in 2019 wasn’t a fluke with another impressive showing in 2020.