However, Shepherd is doing everything he can to avoid becoming an afterthought.
ESPN's Rich Cimini reported that Shepherd "turned heads" with an impressive performance during minicamp. The former third-round pick needs a strong showing this summer to maintain a role not only in the defense but on the active roster.
And his showing this spring was a step in the right direction.
Nathan Shepherd doesn't want the NY Jets to forget about him.
A third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Shepherd was given a golden opportunity to to make an impact in his rookie season as he entered the year as a starter.
However, despite playing all 16 games and making five starts, he failed to make much of an impression. A six-game suspension for PEDs to start the 2019 season did him no favors, but he returned and played some of the best football of his career later in the year.
In 2020, Shepherd reassumed his role as a rotational interior defender and did manage to finish with a career-high 2.5 sacks. But as part of a revamped defensive line, Shepherd isn't guaranteed anything entering the 2021 season.
Quinnen Williams enjoyed a breakout campaign and solidified himself as one of the best players on the roster in 2020. Folorunso Fatukasi has developed into one of the best run-stuffing nose tackles in football. And Sheldon Rankins was signed in the offseason to add even more interior depth.
Shepherd will be competing for one of the backup defensive tackle roles, and there's no guarantee he even makes the team.
Sixth-round rookie Jonathan Marshall is in the mix as well and has the edge when it comes to age and athleticism. If the Jets only carry four true defensive tackles, Shepherd could be on the outside looking in.
That's why it was so important for the soon-to-be 28-year-old to put together a strong offseason. The early signs have been encouraging — especially given that Marshall missed most of OTAs and minicamp with an injury.
Shepherd received plenty of first-team reps with Williams and Rankins absent for much of the spring. Even Fatukasi missed some time as well. In their place, Shepherd managed to impress with the starters.
If the Jets view Shepherd as Fatukasi's primary backup at one-technique defensive tackle, the former Division II standout could have a feasible path to a roster spot.
But if the new coaching staff views him as more of a three-technique, his path to making the team gets a little more crowded. Williams and Rankins should see the bulk of snaps at three-technique and Marshall should get some work there as well.
The Jets also have the likes of John Franklin-Myers, Kyle Phillips, and Jabari Zuniga who could shift inside to play that role on passing downs. Shepherd's best bet would be to serve as insurance for Fatukasi.
Nathan Shepherd needs a strong summer to secure a role in the defense. His performance this spring certainly helped his case.