The New York Jets rookies are set to report to training camp on Tuesday, two days earlier than the rest of the team.
The spotlight on this group is as big as it’s ever been during the Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles era, highlighted by third overall pick Sam Darnold.
Besides the signal caller from USC, plenty of picks and a few UDFAs have the chance to play key roles for Gang Green this year. Let’s break down the biggest storylines surrounding the rookies heading into training camp.
Will Darnold actually start?
The short answer here is: yes, the odds of Sam Darnold starting are trending upward.
Todd Bowles has indicated that it’s Josh McCown’s job to lose, but from what I’ve gathered talking to multiple sources is that the Jets want Darnold to win the job this Summer. They aren’t going to keep him on the bench to open the season if he proves he belongs.
The upside with starting Darnold is his big play ability, specifically extending plays with his legs to find open targets in the intermediate game.
After spending premium money to upgrade cornerback and inside linebacker, the defense has a very good chance of keeping the Jets in close games. The peaks of the 21 year old Darnold could be worth dealing with the rookies turnovers in the meantime.
The steal of the class
As previously mentioned, Mike Maccagnan put a premium on upgrading cornerback in free agency by giving Trumaine Johnson a gigantic contract while also bringing back Mo Claiborne.This gives Todd Bowles two physical man coverage corners on the outside, with Buster Skrine expected to hold down the slot. While this may leave little opportunity to win a ‘starting spot’ for the back end of the depth chart, the flashes of 6th round pick Parry Nickerson during the Spring did not go unnoticed.
The former Tulane star offers two vital assets when on the field: speed (4.32 forty-yard dash) and ball skills (made plays on 28% of his targets over his final two college seasons).
While undersized, don’t be shocked to hear Nickerson’s name called in the preseason early and often. If he shines this Summer, he could find his way into the field in dime packages. That would be one hell of a steal for a sixth round pick.
Can Shepherd make an instant impact?
The Jets defensive line looks quite different this Summer. While Leonard Williams is the face of the group and rotational players Steve McLendon and Mike Pennel are back, the additions of Henry Anderson, Nathan Shepherd and Foley Fatukasi make this a fascinating competition for reps.
There is pressure on Williams to be a superstar this year, which is no easy task with average talent around him in the front seven. He’ll see a ton of double teams and often the run will go the opposite direction of his alignment.
On the flip side, this opens the door for other players, notable one like Shepherd that the front office used their 2018 third round pick on. One key area where he can separate himself from the pack is as a pass rusher, something this group lacks outside of Williams.
It would be a surprise if Shepherd plays more than 30-40% of the defensive snaps this year as a rookie, but that doesn’t mean those opportunities can’t have a significant impact. If he can generate interior pressure against the opposition (beginning with who lines up across from him in camp), it would make a huge difference for Todd Bowles’ defense.
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