An unlikely name continued to pup during New York Jets minicamp last week and throughout this offseason process thus far.
Nathan Shepherd, a former third-round pick (No. 72 overall) in the 2018 NFL draft, “turned heads” per ESPN’s Rich Cimini.
The veteran defensive lineman was born and raised in Canada and came from humble beginnings.
Initially, he started his college career at Simon Fraser University but only lasted two years because of financial issues that forced him to leave school.
After leaving his football dream in the dust, Shepherd did a lot of odd jobs to make ends meet with hopes of eventually returning to the gridiron.
Fast forward two years later and he finally made it back to the collegiate ranks with Fort Hays State.
They took a flier on him as a walk-on and he quickly proved that he belonged. After a few productive seasons, he was ready to make the jump to the pros.
Shepherd carried that momentum into the Reese’s Senior Bowl and ultimately became a day two pick in the NFL draft.
Shepherd Has Continued to Overcome Long Odds
Despite being from a previous regime (Mike Maccagnan), Shepherd has a tremendous chance to break through and remain a part of this potent defensive line group.
He’s older than your typical player entering the last year of his rookie contract (27 will be 28 in the middle of the 2021 season), which should be all the motivation Shepherd needs.
The former Canadian stud is set to make just under $934K this year before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
The 27-year old’s journey is remarkable. He has consistently overcome long odds throughout his life and he’ll have to get back on the saddle once again this offseason.
Gang Green is absolutely loaded upfront with an array of guys that can do a lot of different things:
The one thing Shepherd will have going for him is this new schematic change on the defensive side of the ball.
Head coach Robert Saleh normally carries more defensive lineman than your typical team on its’ roster because he likes rotating guys in-and-out throughout the game to keep guys fresh. That equals more opportunity for Shepherd to make the final 53.
What’s His Role Realistically on This Team?
Shepherd will likely serve as the run-stuffing defensive tackle with the occasional pass rush burst to collapse the pocket in this 4-3 scheme. Over the last two years, he’s registered 4.5 sacks including a career-high 2.5 in 2020.
Most of these pieces on the defensive line are interchangeable so don’t write anything in pen, but it appears Shepherd’s dream scenario is filling in as the primary reserve for Fatukasi.
There’s also a chance he could fill in some spot duty behind Rankins and Quinnen in a pinch if necessary.
There are several things that stand out about his game that should really translate to this new system. Shepherd played linebacker in high school and added a ton of weight to transition to the defensive line. Despite the added beefcake on his frame, he’s maintained his athleticism.
While his age would suggest we already know what he is as a prospect, there is still a lot of untapped potential underneath the surface. If anyone can get it out of him it’s Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
Shepherd hasn’t locked in a roster spot by any means, but the arrow is definitely pointing in the right direction heading into training camp.