In the second round they targeted one of the most "Pro Ready" receivers in the draft in Sterling Shepard from Oklahoma. While the Giants have a definite physical archetype they draft for on defense, their receiver selections have been far more eclectic. The only defining trait of their receivers have been large hands, the better to pluck the football out of the air.
With the shift in offensive philosophy from Kevin Gilbride's "Run 'n Shoot" influenced offense to Ben McAdoo's West Coast based offense, the Giants have also favored advanced route running in receivers. Even more than his electric athleticism, route running was the trait that set Odell Beckham apart from the rest of his stellar draft class.
It is also what sets the undersized, but impressively productive Sterling Shepard apart.
In The Slot
Play 1 vs. Baylor
When people look at Sterling Shepard in the slot, they immediately think of an underneath option, him catching the ball and converting the first down. His size and speed wouldn't lead one to think of him as a deep threat. But there's more to being a deep threat than looking like Julio Jones, things like route running and hand usage have as much -- if not more -- to do with creating separation as size and speed do.
For this play Shepard is lined up in the slot, where he spent most of his time in 2015, facing man coverage from the Baylor defense. Oklahoma goes for the home-run shot with the back shoulder throw on the fade route. It's an unconventional call, but with Shepard there it works.
There isn't any subterfuge going on with the route, it's a fade route run to the pylon, but Shepard's separation seems to come out of nowhere. But watch his break at the 35-yard line after eating up the corner's cushion. First he sinks his hips and shoulders, lowering his center of gravity and giving the defender a smaller target area. Then he uses his hands to sweep the corner's hands aside. The corner stumbles slightly, wandering a step toward the middle of the field, giving Shepard all the separation he needs to get a step and make the catch before diving for the touchdown.
Play 2 vs. Baylor
Shepard is called the best route runner in the draft, and this play shows exactly why. Oklahoma is in the shotgun, and Shepard is in the slot (white box at the start of the play), while Baylor is running a zone coverage over the middle of the field.
Shepards' break at the 45-yard line is, simply put, a thing of beauty. He runs the stem of the route right up to the slot corner, faking a break into a quick out route, before cutting back inside on a slant route. The double move has the slot corner completely burnt almost immediately, leaving Shepard free to work back inside, finding a void in the coverage, and the ball.
After the catch he throws off a would-be tackler and picks up another four yards before getting hit as he attempts a spin move.
Sterling Shepard was the best slot receiver in college football in 2015, but that doesn't mean that that's all he can do.
The big concern with Shepard playing outside is whether or not he can beat press coverage off the line of scrimmage. His 5-foot-10, 194-pound frame is both a blessing and a curse here. It's reasonable to wonder if he would be able to get off the line against a bigger, stronger corner.
However, as the play above shows, Shepard's small size limits the area the defender has to get a hand on him, and his short area quickness ties up his feet, creating separation right off the snap.
Shepard starts with a quick stutter to the inside, faking an inside release or quick slant route. The corner immediately shifts all his weight to his inside foot, getting ready to disrupt the release, but Shepard dances back to the outside and goes right around him. The corner is left trying to press air, stumbling a bit as he tries to lunge toward the receiver as he runs past.. He does show a good recovery, but then Shepard shows his ball-tracking ability and lower-body explosion, going up and snagging the ball out of the air at it's highest point.
Play 2 vs. Louisiana Tech
Here we see a touchdown catch from Shepard. Oklahoma's read-option scheme and heavy backfield force the La Tech defense to stack the box, leaving the wide receivers singled up on the outside with a single safety in the middle of the field.
It's a matchup that favors Oklahoma, and the QB knows that his best receiver is going to get a free release.
At the snap the cornerback has outside leverage but is angling to defend the middle of the field. This is where Shepard's route running creates the separation to score the touchdown. He runs the stem of the route almost up to the corner's toes, taking good long strides off the line of scrimmage to get up to speed.
But what really sets Shepard apart is what he does when he gets about five yards from the corner. He shortens his strides and makes a subtle, but noticeable, fake towards the middle of the field. That forces the corner to break down and defend the potential inside route, opening up the fade route for Shepard. He doesn't have the speed to simply run past the corner, but his quick feet are more than good enough to beat the corner who was flat footed and had to flip his hips 180 degrees to keep up with Shepard's break.
Final Thoughts: Despite being primarily a slot receiver and coming from a spread-option offense, Shepard's nuanced and advanced route running, and the fact that he can run the entire route tree from both the wide receiver and slot receiver positions.
That route running, and impressive quickness in and out of his breaks, should let Shepard play whatever position Ben McAdoo asks of him.
While it is too much to ask of Shepard to predict an "Odell" level of success his rookie season, his ability to come in and run the whole playbook should make for a successful rookie season as defenses concentrate on stopping Beckham