clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fantasy Football 2016: When should you draft Sterling Shepard?

Looking at Sterling Shepard's fantasy potential.

William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

For New York Giants fans, there is not a draft pick that they are more excited about than Sterling Shepard. Not only his he considerably talented, but he is placed in a perfect situation for fantasy football purposes. He gets a top quarterback to throw him the ball in Eli Manning, and he also gets to play with an elite wide receiver to draw attention off of him in Odell Beckham Jr. For these reasons, the Sterling Shepard hype train is not exclusive to Giants fans and has transcended itself for fantasy players of all teams. With an average draft position roughly at 100, can Shepard match these expectations?

Sterling Shepard's situation

To stay competitive in fantasy football, one must understand who the up and coming rookies are. That being said, the rookie class is always a crapshoot with injuries or busts. For all his talent, Shepard is a rookie and thus brings considerable risk. Aside from Ezekiel Elliott, Shepard is the most hyped rookie and the price tag on him will not be cheap. With that said, let us review Shepard's skill set and his situation to minimize these risks.

A decent amount of wide receivers were taken before Shepard in the actual NFL Draft. In fact, Shepard was not even a first round pick. Yet he will be most likely the first rookie receiver off fantasy draft boards. His situation plays a big role. Eli Manning is one of the better quarterbacks in the game and Odell Beckham Jr. will always take on double teams. Ben McAdoo's offense has shown to be one of the more productive in the league. However, there is another considerable factor that not only works in Shepard's favor, but a factor that has been a huge part of previous rookie success: route running.

Every major draft analyst has raved about Shepard's route running ability. Many have said he is the best route runner in his class, including the fantasy writers for the official NFL website. For a rookie receiver, the most common trend of success is the ability to run routes well. All the physical talent and tools mean nothing if a receiver has no understanding about the intricate aspects of the game. If a rookie already has a knack for running routes, then the odds for production and success are that much greater. With his forte being in route running, Shepard has a leg up on the rest of the rookie receivers for fantasy success.

Even with his great route running ability, Shepard was still the fifth receiver taken in the actual NFL draft. A big part of this deals with his size and the stigma of the typical slot receiver. Just like with concerns that made Beckham the third receiver taken in his draft class, here are reasons to not be bearish with Shepard.

He's not a typical slot receiver

Despite playing the vast majority of snaps as a slot receiver, Shepard is not simply thrive on underneath routes in the mold of Wes Welker, Julian Edelman or even the Giants' Steve Smith. A slot receiver gets value knocked out of him because of the lack of big plays. Shepard is not like these other slot receivers, as Jerry Reese said, he is in the mold of a vintage Victor Cruz. Despite coming from the slot, they have the potential for big plays from all over the field.

Chris already wrote on the subject of how Shepard is more than a slot receiver. He has seen success playing the outside receiver positions and has made a number of big plays throughout his collegiate career. Shepard gets pegged as a typical slot receiver for his "short" height but his jumping ability is already elite for NFL players. According to the official NFL website, Shepard "popped off a 4.48 40-yard dash, a solid 10-3 broad jump and a 41-inch vertical jump that tested out in the 95th percentile since 1999. With that elite jumping ability, it is as if he plays at a much bigger height than what his 5-10 frame would indicate.

Similar, successful rookies

The strengths far outweigh the weaknesses for Sterling Shepard. To further show his potential for his rookie year, let us evaluate other similar rookie receivers who turned out to have successful seasons. While these players have their similarities, they are not meant to be perfect comparisons. This disclaimer will not be any more relevant than in our first case study.

Odell Beckham Jr.

The comparison was easy to make, even before Shepard was a Giant. In fact, the aforementioned fantasy article from the official NFL website made the comparison three weeks before the NFL Draft.

Two years ago, a rookie receiver out of LSU shocked the world by coming in and dominating right away after missing all of his first NFL training camp, preseason and first four weeks of regular action. Today we know that Odell Beckham is one of the best wide receivers in the league, but in his first game he was as green as could be and with questions about size limitations. However, Beckham was able to immediately earn a role with the Giants and tear through secondaries despite not seeing a lick of practice time because he was the best route runner in the 2014 NFL Draft class. A ready-made polished professional in the nuanced craftsmen portions of the position before even entering the league. While he's not the prospect Beckham is from an athletic standpoint, that player in the 2016 receiver class is Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard.

Of course, it is completely unfair to expect Shepard to put up even 75 percent of Beckham's production in his rookie year. But the overall point is that Beckham was able to achieve his magical production in 2014 with his advanced route running. Sammy Watkins may be more explosive and Mike Evans may be bigger, but it was Beckham who turned in the best rookie receiver season that year. It goes on to show for rookie success, the number one trait to have is the ability to run great routes.

Amari Cooper

Cooper is a well-rounded wide receiver but his most excellent trait would also be his route running. During the draft season, some analysts preferred Kevin White who is a better athlete with an ideal frame. Cooper is not short at 6-foot but is far from being called big. As with Shepard, size does not deter him from being a deep threat. The key difference in Cooper and Shepard is that Cooper primarily played on the outside. Cooper also excels in bubble screens, being able to take it to the house. Shepard does not quite have that ability yet.

Cooper also had a similar situation to the one Shepard finds himself now. Derek Carr is no superstar but he was able to feed his targets adequately. Cooper also had Michael Crabtree to take attention off of him. Crabtree managed 15 more targets than Cooper but Cooper amassed more yards for a final stat line of 72 receptions, 1070 yards and 6 touchdowns. For a rookie receiver, these numbers are pure gold. Beckham will always be the primary receiver for the Giants but there will always be opportunity and touches for the next best player.

Tyler Lockett

Amari Cooper had tough competition in his draft class for the best route runner in his class. For many analysts, the best route runner was not thought to be Cooper, but rather, Tyler Lockett. Lockett is thought to be the closest comparison for Shepard as well. His final stat line though looks unimpressive with 660 yards and 6 touchdowns. However, this is why looking at the situation is vital for fantasy along with the player's talent. The Seattle Seahawks were in the bottom five in pass attempts which severely hindered Lockett's potential. In fact if we look at efficiency, Lockett was nothing short of amazing. In PPR leagues, Lockett would have been insane if placed on a team that actually passes the ball. He makes use of every target he has. Lockett had a mere 69 targets but turned that into 51 receptions. If we turn this into a metric - receptions per target - Lockett would be among the league's best. Antonio Brown for example had .70 receptions per target last. Lockett had .75 though admittedly in a small sample.

In fact, Lockett had quite a bit to say on Shepard himself. Lockett was pegged as a slot receiver only much like Shepard but found success on the outside once his NFL career started. Lockett believes Shepard can match him.

"When you go into football in the NFL, they are always going to try to find stuff," Lockett said. "They are going to say ‘He’s small. He didn’t have large hands and he’s just an inside receiver.’

"The good thing about Sterling is that I think I was able to help pave the way for him. All the doubts that people have on inside slot receivers, I played the outside probably 80 percent of the whole season. They said I couldn’t get off the press and I beat the press a majority of the time.

"The same things that they have on Sterling, well when you look at they thought this happened to Tyler Lockett, now it’s like we can’t pass up on Sterling Shepard."


"I truly believe that Sterling Shepard can make the same impact that I made — if not bigger — and it all goes on him being able to go to a team that will be able to utilize him to the best of his ability."

In fantasy football or the NFL itself, the word rookie always is seen as a risk. Highly valued draft picks have flamed out immediately once hitting the NFL. The wide receiver position is no stranger to this at all. But with Shepard's penchant for route running and the historical trend of success, I am confident in saying that this is a risk worth taking. Coupled with Shepard's ideal situation with the New York Giants and his commendable work ethic, I am a full supporter of the Sterling Shepard hype train and would even taken him a round or two higher than his current ADP.