The Jets have signed DT Nathan Shepherd, who they drafted 72nd overall last month out of Fort Hays State.
Shepherd was an Division II All-America selection in his 2016 and 2017 seasons. Last season, he tallied 38 tackles (12.5 for loss) and four sacks.
Shepherd, who hails from Canada, will have a chance to compete on a Jets defensive line that needs some remodeling since the departures of Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
But there was a time when Shepherd wasn't even thinking about a career in the NFL. He was just trying to make it by day by day.
Shepherd intially went to Simon Fraser Univeristy in Vancouver, which was the only school that offered a Division II football program in Canada. However, he was forced to withdraw due to financial issues. Shepherd, then, found any job he could and worked out whenever he could.
"First I worked at a plant nursery, then I worked construction," he told TSN's Dave Naylor. "In the spring of 2014 I made my way back to Toronto, moved back in with my family and got a job in a printing factory. It basically was like printing off boxes, beer or pop cartons. Then I'd work out either before or after."
Shepherd waited patiently for his next opportunity, and it finally came with Fort Hayes State who had three seniors on their defensive line in the 2015 season. He used money he saved for tuition in the spring of 2015, but would earn a scholarship for the next three seasons.
The 24-year-old was invited to the Senior Bowl this year as NFL scouts jumped on his raw athleticism and potential. And with the Jets pulling the trigger on Shepherd, he became the first player from Fort Hayes State to be drafted in more than 30 years.
"I'm always going to be someone where nothing's guaranteed," Shepherd said. "And whatever happens, I'm going to have a free-agency mindset. And once I get there, god-willing, then I can reflect and I definitely will. And use that to continue to propel myself through my career and know that whatever barrier you have in your way you just knock that thing down one at a time."
If you're a team like the Jets, still in the beginning stages of a total rebuild, you can take a chance on raw players like Nathan Shepherd, a Canadian who was a smallish linebacker in high school before growing into an NFL-caliber defensive tackle at Division II Fort Hays (Kan.) State.
His growth-spurt was enormous -- he was about 200 pounds in high school - so his game is still trying to catch up for his body. But his game is pretty good, particularly his skills as an interior pass rusher in a 3-4. Right now, the Jets line up the 32-year-old Steve McLendon in that spot. In a year or two, the hope is Shepherd will be ready to take over.
It won't be right away, though. This will be a big step up in competition and defensive scheme for him, and there's no guarantee his raw talent will make an impact in the NFL. But with so many good, young defensive players on the rest of their roster, and while they're still building over the next couple of years, there's little risk to the Jets in taking on a project like this, especially since the payoff could be huge.