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Underrated NY Jets contributor has emerged after cold start

Robert Saleh, Nathan Shepherd, NY Jets
Robert Saleh, Nathan Shepherd, New York Jets, Getty Images

Nathan Shepherd is putting it together for the New York Jets

Defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd has often been a much-maligned player with the New York Jets. Shepherd is an incredible athlete whose physical gifts made him a third-round pick in 2018, but he has battled inconsistency in the NFL. The Jets have stuck with him through three different coaching staffs despite his often lackluster production.

Robert Saleh and his coaching staff clearly loved what they saw in Shepherd when they arrived in New York. Shepherd was a key piece of the defensive line in 2021 and made the roster once more in 2022.

Shepherd is serving as a backup defensive tackle behind Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins. In the Jets’ rotation-heavy system, Shepherd plays 22.4 defensive snaps per game (33.5% of snaps), which is more than most backup defensive tackles in the NFL.

Fans have often been frustrated and puzzled by the Jets’ affinity for Shepherd, but it’s time to admit it: The Jets’ patience with Shepherd is finally paying off.

Shepherd has really upped his game over the last couple of months. He pops out with a great pass-rush rep or two in just about every game. Since a cold start to the year, he has been an effective rotational pass-rusher on the interior.

From Weeks 1-4, Shepherd only had one pressure on 46 pass-rush snaps, giving him a woeful 2.2% pressure rate.

Ever since then, Shepherd has been very efficient in his role. Since Week 5, Shepherd has 10 pressures on 94 pass-rush snaps. That is a pressure rate of 10.6%, which ranks 12th-best out of 100 qualified interior defensive linemen over that span.

Shepherd throws a nasty swim move on this play and finishes with a soul-crushing hit on Kirk Cousins. Shepherd pressures Cousins into attempting an ill-advised deep bomb into double coverage, which should have a good chance of being intercepted, but Jordan Whitehead badly misplays it. Nevertheless, this is an outstanding rep by Shepherd.

From the nose tackle position here, Shepherd beats the center with a rip move and then plows into the right guard to free up John Franklin-Myers (I don’t think this was a designed stunt but it functions as one). Franklin-Myers loops behind the center for the sack. Shepherd turns the corner on the center and is able to join Franklin-Myers for the half-sack.

Shepherd slides over to the 3-tech spot pre-snap and initially sizes up the right guard before slicing inside to take on the center. The center starts the play by leaning to his right to try and help the guard with Shepherd, so Shepherd catches him in a bad position when he comes inside. Shepherd is able to get his hands into the center’s chest and bull him back. To free himself up, Shepherd yanks the center forward, sending him into the ground. Shepherd dives and makes an athletic finish on Mac Jones for the sack.

The Jets’ pass rush has turned up the heat since a mediocre start to the year, and Shepherd’s improvement is quietly playing a part in that. New York’s rotation-heavy approach for the defensive line is much more justifiable when the reserves are coming in and producing as efficiently as Shepherd has been over his last eight games.

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Mike Palazzo
Mike Palazzo
1 year ago

Nice to see him picking it up here in 2022.

1 year ago

I was definitely among those questioning the move to keep Shepherd. I do recall draft analysts thought he could be a “diamond in the rough”. Glad to hear that our coaches’ confidence is starting to pay off

1 year ago
Reply to  mlesko73

I also wanted him gone. I was wrong on that one. I would love to see him be consistent and keep it rolling .