Over the past decade, the New York Jets have taken pride in their ability to develop elite run stuffers. Nearly a decade ago now, Damon Harrison joined Gang Green and became arguably the best nose tackle in the league. Once he departed, Steve McLendon posted some of the best numbers of his career with the team. And now, Folorunso Fatukasi follows as the latest nose tackle New York has developed.
Despite not being a regular starter, Fatukasi has proven to be the team’s most consistent defensive lineman. Not only has he been a rock in the Jets struggling run defense, but he has become a better pass rusher too in year four. In other words, it is time to recognize the fact that Folorunso Fatukasi is a bonafide stud.
Folorunso Fatukasi Off to Another Hot Start in 2021
Folorunso Fatukasi is in Rare Company
Back in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mike Maccagnan was still the man calling the shots. Notorious for his unproductive draft classes, Maccagnan struggled mightily to find talent on day three of the NFL Draft. Yet, Fatukasi represents the select few selections on day three that have actually paid off.
Taken in the sixth round out of Connecticut, Fatukasi was the second defensive lineman taken by Gang Green in the class, with Nathan Shepherd being the other (third round). At the time, Fatukasi was viewed as a developmental pick who had the power and athleticism to potentially replace a then-32-year-old McLendon. Today, Fatukasi now lines up as the Jets starting nose tackle every Sunday.
But being a Maccagnan pick, he enters rare company by playing the final season of his rookie deal with the team. Out of the 28 picks he made, only Leonard Williams, Jordan Jenkins, Lachlan Edwards, Brandon Shell, Marcus Maye, Shepherd, and Fatukasi have played for the Jets during the fourth and final year of their rookie deal. Moreover, only Maye has returned following his rookie deal, albeit on a one-year franchise tag. In other words, Fatukasi has already been more successful than most recent Jets draft picks.
Folorunso Fatukasi is the Jets Best Defensive Lineman
No, Fatukasi does not have the All-Pro caliber ceiling of 2019 first-round pick Quinnen Williams. Nevertheless, he has a legitimate case to be the Jets most valuable defensive lineman.
After having played one game as a rookie, Shepherd’s snap count has increased from 35% in 2019 to 45% in 2020, and so far, 53% in 2021. Since becoming a part of the regular rotation in 2019, he has been graded among the top 14 defensive linemen in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Moreover, through two games in 2021, he ranks 13th of 115 qualifying defensive linemen as a run defender, and 20th out of 110 qualifying defensive linemen as a pass rusher.
While the numbers he posts will not blow anyone away, his presence alone makes an impact. Fatukasi acts as an immovable object in the middle of the defense, and one who can move the pocket too. His three career sacks and 13 career tackles for a loss are not going to get him much credit. Yet his ability to simply wreak havoc makes him one of the most valuable players on this team right now.
Inevitable Pay Day on the Way
In today’s pass-happy league, elite run stuffers who are capable of rushing the passer are hard to find. Especially ones like Fatukasi, who have shown improvement as a pass rusher every year. Therefore, setting him up for a massive pay raise next off-season.
Last off-season, the highest average annual value of a defensive tackle on the free agent market, Dalvin Tomlinson, earned $10.5 million. Whereas the pre-coronavirus salary cap in 2020 allowed D.J. Reader to earn $13.5 million. With the salary cap expected to return to 2020-type levels this off-season, a then-27-year-old Fatukasi can earn a big contract as he enters his prime.
Who knows how the next 15 games will go for Fatukasi and the Jets. But if he continues to perform the way he has, General Manager Joe Douglas will have to prepare for a bidding war to retain his most reliable defensive lineman.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images