The New York Giants selected a number of highly-talented rookies this past April during the NFL Draft. Someone like third-round pick Darian Thompson fills a dire team need. First-rounder Eli Apple was just considered the best player on the board by the team. Running back Paul Perkins and tight end Jerell Adams come in with the chance to immediately compete for playing time at positions filled with depth and no clear starters. However, no Giants rookie should have a bigger impact this season than second-round wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
The fit, skill set and talent come together so perfectly for Shepard and the Giants that he may be one of the most important rookies in the entire conference. It begins with New York’s depth at wide receiver, or lack thereof.
Odell Beckham Jr. is arguably the best receiver in the NFL. He has had two of the greatest rookie and sophomore years in the history of the sport. Everyone loves Beckham (except Josh Norman, of course). But after OBJ, there are major questions for New York.
Supposedly Victor Cruz will be back healthy this season and will look to regain the form that made him a premiere pass-catcher in the league. Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it. Most likely, Cruz suffers some type of setback or, even more likely, he will finally come back and just be a shell of his former playing self. Maybe he will still be good enough to warrant snaps. But it is hard to imagine a scenario where he becomes an every-week starter who the team leans on for production. He has been hurt and away too long.
The rest of wide receiver depth is lacking for the Giants. Sure, Dwayne Harris had a nice season in 2015, but he isn’t a starting wide receiver in this league. You know who could be? Sterling Shepard.
Shepard has a great chance to slide right into the starting lineup from Week 1. Opportunity breeds success. Maybe there’s a more talented wide receiver elsewhere in the NFL, but if he doesn’t get a chance to see the field, it hardly matters. Not only will Shepard get his chance, he will be counted on to perform.
This is where his skill comes in relation to the team’s offense. Shepard isn’t a big dude, but that isn’t a necessity. In fact, at 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, he has nearly an identical build to Beckham. And Shepard excelled at such size in college. He kept getting better each of his four years at Oklahoma, culminating in a combined 2,000-plus yards in his junior and senior years. He averaged 14.9 yards per catch for his entire collegiate career and never played in fewer than 11 games.
NFL.com’s Mike Mayock called him one of the feistiest competitors in the entire draft, regardless of position. He graded out excellently at the draft combine, showing off his strength despite his frame. Shepard already possesses the skill that many receivers lack entering the NFL: route-running. He has great hands, an ability to separate and the work ethic to succeed.
Shepard will be best served playing in the slot, where he will see more free releases and can pick apart defenses with his quickness. That doesn’t gel perfectly with the Giants considering they lack another starter opposite Beckham. But in today’s NFL, a number of the best receivers play exclusively from the slot. For an offensively-inclined coach like Ben McAdoo, finding formations for Shepard will not be a problem.
Shepard would be able to fit into any offense. He fills a dire need on this team with the questions surrounding Cruz’s future. Playing opposite Beckham will mean a ton of single coverage. And he’s already drawing rave reviews. Everything is shaping up for the rook to have a huge year. Eli Manning is going to love this kid.