This month, we've breaking down all of the Jets' 2018 draft picks in detail. Today we move on to look at third round selection Nathan Shepherd.
The 24-year old defensive lineman went to college at Simon Fraser and Fort Hays State. He is listed at 6'4" and 315 pounds and was the MIAA defensive player of the year.
Shepherd was born and raised in Canada and initially attended college at Simon Fraser, where - after a redshirt year - he impressed with 20 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
However, he soon ran out of money and had to leave school. For two years he worked at a plant nursery and as an electrical contractor, before taking 12-to-14 hour shifts in a factory printing boxes. When he had enough money saved, he returned to school having received an offer from Fort Hays State after they had seen his highlight reel.
In his first year at FHSU, Shepherd racked up a career-high 69 tackles, along with five tackles for loss and three sacks. This included a 14-tackle performance with 1.5 tackles for loss in the team's bowl game.
In his junior year, he had fewer tackles (61) but again had three sacks and made more tackles for loss (9.5). His final season saw him post career highs in sacks (four) and tackles for loss (12.5), although he only had 38 tackles in total.
After the season, Shepherd was invited to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl and also to attend the scouting combine. He raised his stock at the Senior Bowl with impressive performances in practice, although a broken hand cut his week short and prevented him from playing in the game. He also helped his stock at the combine.
The Jets selected Shepherd with their lone day two pick, at number 72 overall.
Let's take a closer look at what Shepherd brings to the table, divided into categories.
Shepherd's athletic measurables are really good, as you can see. Even his substandard arm length is paired with a big wingspan, underlining how wide his frame is.
In addition to these numbers, draft experts have been raving about his frame and physique and have been excited about his quickness, strength and explosiveness.
Shepherd was actually just 205 pounds when he arrived at Simon Fraser, having been a linebacker in high school. He bulked up to be a defensive end during his redshirt season.
Shepherd has played all over the defensive line in college, although he would probably fit best as a 3-4 end in the pros. In his final year of college, he seemed to play more reps as a nose tackle, which might explain why his tackle numbers reduced.
Mike Mayock was quoted as saying that he thinks Shepherd can play inside or outside in the pre-draft process and, as noted, he does have experience of playing at linebacker and defensive end.
Shepherd was in the game most of the time for FHSU and would basically play until he was worn out and take a few plays to get a breather. He battles hard in the trenches and chases plays down until you start to see him get fatigued.
Here's a nice example of Shepherd (#97) chasing a play down and getting in on a tackle from the backside.
As you expect from an NFL-level prospect playing at the Division II level, Shepherd is dominant, despite getting plenty of extra attention in terms of double team and additional help. He's not really faced any NFL-level prospects during his college career, although he reportedly held up much better than expected when making the jump to the Senior Bowl.
As you'd expect, Shepherd is often quicker than the player tasked with blocking him and he is able to use this advantage to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield:
He's capable of creating penetration at the point of attack due to his strength advantage too, especially when coupled with an explosive get-off that enables him to get an immediate leverage advantage:
However, as noted, he gets a lot of double teams and, although he usually holds up well against these, they can occasionally lead to him being taken by surprise. He gets driven several yards off the line here:
As already noted, Shepherd will chase down plays and is athletic enough to stay in front of the ball on outside runs, but there are limits to his range.
While Shepherd often relies on exploiting an athletic advantage when playing the run, he's more adept at using pass rushing moves and shows a developed sense of rushing with a plan and being able to react when his initial move is countered.
He's been consistent but unspectacular in terms of his sack numbers, but these don't tell the full story about how disruptive Shepherd is, even when double-teamed or chipped.
Here's an example of Shepherd's initial move being repelled, so he is able to counter and still get pressure on the quarterback:
He shows off some power here, with an initial club move that rocks his man off balance:
Here's an effective spin move, which isn't just for show. He's obviously set the defender up for this, perhaps by going outside on previous reps and it frees him up completely to get after the quarterback:
This, however, looks like a move in development. He craftily gains the upfield leverage with a well-executed rip move, but doesn't forcefully explode off the block to free himself completely. That may be because he was being held though:
Shepherd had been regarded as raw and some scouting reports even suggest it might take him a few years to be ready to contribute due to the jump in competition. That's a worry for a player who will already be 25 on opening day. The good news is that the film shows him to be more technically developed than expected.
This was first acknowledged during Senior Bowl practices, where he held his own against some top-level prospects, including high-second rounder Will Hernandez. He was said to be the only defensive lineman who could stand up to Hernandez's formidable initial thrust. Here's an example of him getting the better of the newest Giant:
DL Nathan Shepherd has what it takes, man. This is as good a rush rep as you'll find at the Senior Bowl. Beats Will Hernandez. pic.twitter.com/88xoleRbMb— Kyle Crabbs (@NDTScouting) January 24, 2018
As already seen, Shepherd is developing a toolkit of pass rush moves, which he seems capable of mastering and figuring out how and when to use them for maximum effectiveness. The book on Shepherd was that he's raw, but actually his film shows tantalizing signs of a player who is adept at mastering technique and that could therefore respond really well - and quickly - to NFL-level coaching.
When you see a play like this, where his pad level is too high and he fails to hold up to the double team, it's apparent he needed to be properly shown how to handle that situation rather than just relying on his size to fight it off:
His development as a pass rusher provides hope that skills like these will be things he can master with proper coaching, which will make him that much more effective.
2017 showed that he was already making strides in that area, as he was required to play the nose tackle role more often. Good technique from him here enables him to leverage off his block to get into the backfield and blow up a play:
He also started to show signs of being an effective two-gapper, where he would actually use his length to stand his man up and see the play unfold, ready to leverage off his block to bottle up a run on one side, or throw the block off to blow up the run himself on the other side.
As noted, Shepherd was a productive tackler in his first two years with the Tigers, perhaps due to playing on the edge more. While his tackle numbers dropped in his senior years, he was still contributing to run stops by bottling runs up rather than getting in on the tackle himself.
He is usually pretty consistent in terms of wrapping or tripping his man up. Here's a play where he allowed the runner to slip away from him for a couple of extra yards:
He had a couple of forced fumbles in 2016. Here was one of them:
While there wasn't footage available of Shepherd dropping into coverage or any passes defensed having been credited to him in his bio, he does make an effort to get his hands up to contest throws and had one interception (which he returned 18 yards) at SFU.
Here's a play where he reacts to and then blows up a short pass in athletic fashion:
Shepherd's instincts are regarded as top-notch, which perhaps isn't surprising with his pedigree at linebacker and as an edge defender. The only negative is that he sometimes gets fooled by misdirection plays like this one:
Shepherd's only contributions on special teams will probably be on the kick block units. He did block two kicks in his sophomore season.
The Jets seem to love these guys who took a long and hard road to the NFL but never gave up on their dreams. That kind of drive and determination is obviously something that impresses the top brass.
Shepherd's work ethic is regarded as very good and he's a mature person who works at his weaknesses and sets himself attainable goals.
Shepherd doesn't seem to have had any serious injury issues in his past. As noted, he was injured during senior bowl practices, breaking a bone in his hand.
Shepherd has the versatility to play a number of roles, but is most likely going to compete for time at Muhammad Wilkerson's old position. The Jets have said they expect to use more of a rotation next year to keep everyone fresh, so there's a good chance Shepherd will have a significant role as long as he's healthy.
If he's not ready to start as rookie, Shepherd can probably back up Henry Anderson, who is also ideally suited towards that role and has starting experience so he can be a good mentor to Shepherd.
As always, it's never easy to project how good somebody is going to be when they've played at a lower level and Shepherd perhaps doesn't display the kind of statistical production or dominance you'd ideally like to see.
However, his approach and occasional flashes of seasoned technical play go along with his athletic measurables to make up a tantalizingly moldable prospect. Yes, there are areas where he needs to improve, but he's already proven to be the kind of player who can work on aspects of his game and make strides as a direct result.
There's no pressure on Shepherd to deliver immediately, because the Jets have plenty of defensive line alternatives. This gives the Jets the luxury of taking as long as they need to in terms of honing his skills to the point where he can maximize his potential, although they'd obviously prefer for him to start making an impact sooner rather than later, since he'll already be into his mid-twenties when the season starts.
If Shepherd can put it all together, he has the potential to be really good, but he already does certain things well enough that you could see him making contributions sooner rather than later.