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The Giants need defensive linemen — can Nathan Shepherd provide that depth?

Jets’ defensive lineman could be what Giants need

New York Jets v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen revealed his thoughts on the scarcity of defensive linemen across the NFL. Schoen identified the defensive line and linebackers as positions that don’t have ubiquitous talent. That reality led to the Giants relying too much on Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.

Schoen would like to lighten the load for the star defensive linemen. Lawrence played 977 snaps in 2022, which was the second most on the defense. He did this at 6-foot-4, 342 pounds, and still compiled 70 pressures and 7.5 sacks. Williams was banged up most of the season but still managed to play 723 snaps.

It would behoove the Giants to find reliable depth behind the defensive line duo. New York also needs to find a starting defensive lineman for their base personnel package, which is a 3-4 ODD front that typically aligns all three defensive linemen within the tackle box.

As of right now, that third position is up for grabs. The Giants may look to find that base player in the draft, but they could also secure a reliable NFL-caliber player in free agency, which would open up more options for the Giants heading into the draft. Nathan Shepherd could be that answer.

The basics

Age: 29 in the 2023 season
Height: 6-foot-4 | Weight: 315
Position: Defensive Line
Experience: 5 seasons
2022 stats: 17 games | Tackles: (23) | Tackles for a loss: (4) | Stops: (15) | Pressures (17) | Sacks: (1.5) Missed tackles (7, 17.5 percent)

The skinny

Nathan Shepherd was a Canadian prospect who originally attended Simon Fraser University before transferring to Fort Hays State in Kansas. The 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl was a breakout event for the small-school star. I was in attendance, and Shepherd was the unknown player who quickly turned scouts and media pundits to Fort Hays State’s tape.

Shepherd’s heavy hands, quick penetration skills, and short-area athletic traits gave him an unrealized advantage in one-on-ones and team drills. Unfortunately, he broke his hand during Wednesday’s practice, but he had already proved his worth against top collegiate competition.

Shepherd couldn’t perform the bench press at his combine, but his on-field drill work was impressive. This continued his ascension from a possible UDFA to a day two selection:

The New York Jets selected Shepherd in the third round of the draft. He played a complementary role in his rookie season, but he found himself suspended to start his second year as a professional. Shepherd was suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

The impetus for the violation was Shepherd’s sports hernia surgery that put him behind the eight-ball for training. Shepherd served his suspension and was able to record two sacks and 14 pressures in 147 pass-rushing reps in 2019.

Shepherd has seven career sacks and 72 pressures. He’s never had more than twenty pressures in a season, but he’s never had less than ten. Shepherd has 950 pass-rushing reps in his career, with a total of 1,822 total defensive snaps.

I appreciate how the former Jets’ No. 97 moves. He can bend for a bigger player, and he packs a violent punch with some pass-rushing upside. He’s adequate at working to the half-man and using the opponent’s momentum against them.

If the Giants opt to add Shepherd, he wouldn’t be guaranteed a starting spot. The contract would likely be cheap. He is coming off a one-year $1.085 million contract with the Jets; that’s a very fair deal that should entice the Giants. If he wants to stay in the New York area, and if the Giants are interested in adding veteran defensive linemen, then this marriage makes sense.