Sam Darnold-to-Chris Herndon connection highlights Jets' draft class

No matter what happens in the coming years, the New York Jets' 2018 draft will be remembered for Sam Darnold, who showed enough progress to make them believe the decades-old quarterback issue is solved. Between Darnold, tight end Chris Herndon and defensive end Nathan Shepherd, the Jets found three immediate starters and two special-teams players: cornerback Parry Nickerson and running back Trenton Cannon. This could turn out to be one of their better drafts in recent years.

Grade: Above average.

Best rookie: QB Sam Darnold. Their first-round pick is the single biggest reason why the Jets have hope. After typical rookie growing pains, Darnold returned from a four-week foot injury and looked like a different quarterback in the final four games. In that span, he posted the best Total QBR (80.7) in the league. The three quarterbacks directly behind him -- Andrew Luck, Nick Foles and Tom Brady -- all were playing on the second weekend of the playoffs. Darnold was 4-9 as a starter, with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, but ignore the numbers. The talent is there; he just needs proper coaching and a better supporting cast.

Most improved rookie: TE Chris Herndon. Hey, look, the Jets finally uncovered a midround gem! Drafted in the fourth round, Herndon impressed from day one with his hands and route running, but it wasn't until the second half of the season that he became an integral part of the offense. He finished with 39 receptions, eighth among tight ends and wide receivers who were drafted in 2018. Herndon wound up playing 62 percent of the offensive snaps, third on the Jets among skill players. He's smooth and crafty at the top of his routes, enabling him to gain separation.

Jury is still out on ...: DE Nathan Shepherd. He found out quickly that he wasn't in Kansas anymore. After dominating at Division II Fort Hays State, Shepherd -- a third-round pick -- struggled through a rookie season that did not include any impact plays. No sacks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries. The coaching staff rushed him into the starting lineup for Week 1 even though he didn't earn it, and the results were predictable. He was confused by blocking schemes and got caught out of position. Late in the year, his playing time was down to only 15 snaps per game. It's too soon to say he's a bust, but Shepherd needs to accelerate the learning curve in Year 2.

Undrafted rookie evaluation: There's only one -- LB Frankie Luvu, who was in the right place at the right time. Because of personnel and injury issues at outside linebacker, Luvu got unexpected playing time (42 percent of the defensive snaps), finishing with three sacks and contributing on special teams. Luvu doesn't have top-level traits, which means he probably won't be a future starter, but he earned his keep by playing at 100 mph.