The preseason may not count, but it does matter. The most important aspect of these four weeks will be the development of the young players on this team, particularly this year’s draft picks. Joe Malfa grades their performances against the Redskins.
1st Round Pick QB Sam Darnold — B+
Darnold solidified his stranglehold on the QB1 role for the Jets with his performance against the Giants. The stats don’t tell the whole story in this one. Yes, he was 8/16, but three of those incompletions were clear drops and two were throwaways under pressure. Take away those incompletions that are not his fault, and suddenly the 8/16 becomes a much better looking 8/11. Penalties also prevented a couple of series from getting going, and poor special teams play led to some bad field position.
The two things that impressed me most in this game were his ability to scan the field and read defenses like a grizzled veteran and the two touchdown drives he orchestrated. Between the field position and the penalties, most of the drives went nowhere, but he was nearly perfect on the two touchdown drives. The first touchdown drive featured one play that stuck out above the rest as far as his ability to read the defenses. With the play clock winding down, he read pressure from the left side and gave a signal to Neal Sterling. The tight end was lined up to Darnold’s right. As soon as the ball was snapped, Sterling ran a quick out and Darnold went right to him. There were no linebackers or safeties within 10 yards of Sterling.
The pass to Sterling picked up 13 yards on 3rd and 8. Later in the drive, Darnold showcased his pocket awareness and athleticism. He scrambled for 14 yards on 3rd and 13. Success on 3rd downs is key to success in the NFL, and Darnold has shown a knack for moving the sticks.
There is only one negative play that sticks out to me from Darnold’s performance — the intentional grounding. He had plenty of time and space in the pocket but was caught flat-footed. There was no need to take that penalty or the hit.
3rd Round Pick DT Nathan Shepherd — C
Shepherd was quiet for the first time this preseason. In the first two games, he really jumped off the screen as he just overpowered offensive linemen. Not this time around. He didn’t generate much push at the line or redirect traffic as much as he did in either of the first two games. He recorded just one tackle and did not get any pressure on the quarterbacks. Nothing to worry about here though. Everyone is allowed an off night, and his performance wasn’t even that bad. He plugged some holes and the Giants didn’t do much on the ground, but he was not nearly as dominant as he was in the first two games.
6th Round Pick DT Folorunso Fatukasi — D
I was wondering which Fatukasi we would get against the Giants. Would it be the guy who flashed against the Falcons and looked like he might be a solid rotational player, or the guy who disappeared against the Redskins? Unfortunately, it was the latter. You won’t find his name on the stat sheet, and you won’t see him do much of anything on film.
4th Round Pick TE Chris Herndon — D
Friday was a big night for the tight end battle. It was the first time that all five player competing for the three roster spots were on the field at once. If rep count tells us anything, it’s that Eric Tomlinson and Jordan Leggett should have their agents actively contacting new times. Herndon is certainly safe and will probably be the No. 1 tight end, but there wasn’t much to take out of his debut as a Jet. He was targeted once and did not haul it in. It was interesting to see him used in an H-back role similar to what we saw out of Quincy Enunwa before he fully converted to WR. Herndon at H-back could provide for some interesting looks and favorable matchups.
6th Round Pick RB Trenton Cannon — B
One thing is for sure — Cannon cannot be trusted as a punt returner. He muffed a punt once again and lost this one. He did return three kicks for 71 yards (23.7 yards per return), which is respectable. His speed and quickness make him a dangerous kick returner. He just doesn’t have the hands to be a punt returner.
Cannon is 2/2 in terms of impressing me as a running back. He looked good against the Falcons, didn’t play against the Redskins, and looked like a legitimate depth option against the Giants. He caught four passes for 30 yards and racked up 23 yards on five carries. Early indication are that he may have what it takes to make it as a depth scat-back in addition to a kick returner.
6th Round Pick CB Parry Nickerson — N/A
We still haven’t seen Nickerson. The best ability is availability, and he has seriously lack in that department so far. Buster Skrine may have been a surprise cut if Nickerson put together a strong preseason. Nickerson hasn’t put together a preseason at all. Skrine is safe, and Nickerson has a long way to go now to find himself a prominent role in this defense.