Michael Nania takes a look back at the intriguing signs of potential that Nathan Shepherd has showcased in the passing game.
At 24 years old on the day he was drafted and turning 25 in October of his rookie year, Nathan Shepherd was not exactly the type of prospect you would consider a “project.” Older than some players who had already spent multiple seasons in the league, the Jets were certainly hoping that Shepherd could use his top-notch physique to make an instant impact in the league.
Shepherd was unable to do that, appearing raw from start to finish in what amounted to a dead-silent debut season. He recorded no sacks, 12 total pressures (82nd among IDL), and five run-stops (121st) over 343 snaps (103rd) across all 16 games.
Shepherd’s role was diminished as the season went on – after playing more than 20 defensive snaps in each of his first five games and eight of his first 10, he played 20 or fewer in each of his final six. It seemed Shepherd’s advanced age was not enough to overcome the substantial adjustment from Division II Fort Hays State to the NFL, and that there would be a growth curve for him after all.
Despite the lackluster volume totals, there was one area where Shepherd showcased some potential – as a pass-rusher. You may have noticed above that Shepherd ranked much higher in total pressures than he did in snaps played. He was actually a solidly efficient rusher, tying for 82nd in pressures (12) even though he ranked 111th in pass-rush snaps (150). His pressure rate of 8.0% ranked in the 59th percentile among interior defensive linemen.
Twenty-nineteen got off to a disappointing start for Shepherd. After being placed on the inactive list for the opening game of the season, Shepherd received a six-game suspension for a PED violation. He did not return until Week 9.
Once Shepherd did get back on the field, he started to build on the pass-rushing promise he established in 2018.