When you look at all of the play-making weapons the New York Giants have — Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley, quarterback Eli Manning, there is a name that is easy to forget. That would be third-year wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
Let’s focus on Shepard today as we continue to roll through our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.
Position: Wide receiver
2017 season in review
By some measures, 2017 was a really good individual season for Shepard. By others, not so much.
Shepard entered his sophomore season wanting to increase his yards after catch. He did that, going from 256 to 316 and raising his per-catch average from 10.5 yards to 12.4. He increased his catch percentage, going from 61.9 completed targets as a rookie to 70.2 percent last season. Shepard went from a pedestrian 41.7 yards receiving per game to a more impactful 66.7. He had three 100+ yard receiving games and twice had 11 catches in games.
Still, his season wasn’t what it could have been. He suffered an ankle injury the same week that Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris were lost for the season and ended up missing five games where he would have been the Giants’ No. 1 option at wide receiver.
He ended up with five fewer catches than he had as a rookie, 64-59, and his touchdowns dropped from 8 to 2.
Shepard could be a much-improved player in 2018, yet not really end up with the statistics to prove it. That is because of all of the aforementioned players.
Manning will have options, and it will be his job to survey the landscape at the line of scrimmage, identify the mismatch and get the ball to the play-maker with the best opportunity to make something happen.
Shepard told media this spring that he isn’t concerned about the ball distribution.
“As long as we’re winning games, I don’t really care how it comes together,” he said. “I just don’t want to have another season like last year, so whoever gets the ball, I know that you can trust in them to make big plays. I’m happy about that.”
One benefit of last season was that Shepard, thought of as a slot receiver because of his 5-foot-10 stature, spent more time on the outside as the team’s top wide receiver.
Whether he could succeed outside has always been a question. The experience will also do him good in 2018 because the Giants appear to be leaning toward using a two-tight end set with just two true wide receivers more often than they did under Ben McAdoo, meaning Shepard would be lined up outside more often.
“In this offense, you kind of have to learn every single piece because you can be moved around and then when we’re going fast, you can pretty much line up anywhere,” Shepard said. “You have to know everything, you have to be able to run routes from the inside and outside.”
Shepard knows there will always be doubters when it comes to his ability on the outside.
“That’s been that way since college. I feel like I’ve proven that I can play outside and just try to handle my business. I know that I can play outside and we will soon see,” he said.
What his numbers will ultimately look like is anyone’s guess, but Shepard is maturing into a solid NFL player. He should get plenty of chances to make an impact in 2018.