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The Jets had back-to-back picks in the sixth round of last month’s draft, and they used the second of them to select defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi with the No. 180 pick. Let’s provide some insight into what Fatukasi brings to the table and how he might fit in should he make the team.
Fatukasi is a player whose run-stuffing abilities have stood out over the past four seasons with UConn. He’s strong at the point of attack, can get off blocks to make plays in the running game and can create penetration either with his strength or quickness.
However, he’s not a completely one-dimensional player, as he’s generated some good production as a pass rusher as well. He had 14 sacks over the past three seasons, including a career-high 7.5 in 2015. In that season, Fatukasi was mostly used as a 3-4 defensive end, which Todd Bowles has already said will be his role with the Jets. Of course, the Jets also play with a four-man front regularly, and Fatukasi can play as a conventional defensive tackle in such packages, as he did to good effect in 2016 and 2017.
It’s will be interesting to compare Fatukasi’s progress with that of third-round pick Nathan Shepherd. As previously discussed, the book on Shepherd was that he was raw and might take a while to be ready to contribute, which is a concern because he will turn 25 before the season gets underway.
By contrast, Fatukasi, who is 18 months younger than Shepherd, was productive for four years at an FBS school, so he might be expected to be able to make the jump to NFL contributor more easily than the Division II product.
That said, while we observed that Shepherd has better-than-anticipated technical ability, it appears Fatukasi relies on his strength and power more than Shepherd does. While Shepherd would have had more of a strength and quickness advantage due to playing at a lower level, he still wins with sound technique, hand placement and leverage rather than just overpowering his overmatched opponents. This enabled him to be effective even when double-teamed.
Despite his excellent production in college, Fatukasi still has some areas where he will need to improve upon to be successful at the pro level. The primary one is awareness, as he can often be caught out by down blocks or pre-occupied with fighting for a leverage advantage, so he doesn’t see the play unfolding ahead of him.
Tied into that is his technique when taking on a double-team or two-gapping. He has a tendency to rely on his strength rather than textbook technique in such situations. If he could sharpen this up so he can take advantage of his length and anchor himself better, then he could improve his vision and play recognition.
Physically, he’s strong, moves well laterally and is explosive out of his stance and to the ball. His only athletic weakness is a lack of footspeed, which can limit his range in pursuit. That’s not crucial for an interior lineman, but it makes it all the more important for his play recognition to be up to speed.
Despite Bowles’ assertion that Fatukasi will be part of the rotation at end, his skill set could lend itself to bulking up and playing at nose tackle. This might be something that happens later on in his career. For now, the Jets have Steve McLendon and Mike Pennel to man that position, even though each is also capable of playing as an end. Fatukasi could also potentially develop into the kind of player that can handle both roles eventually.
Competition for reps is going to be high with the Jets already drafting Shepherd and using a late-round pick to trade for Henry Anderson to create a possible logjam at the position. If Fatukasi can be a run-stopping specialist in the short term, then that will enable him to make valuable contributions on first and second down to enable the better pass rushing linemen to stay fresh.
However, in the long run, the Jets will be hoping he can live up to his potential to be more than that.