Injuries happen in football. Pretty much everyone recognizes that it isn’t a question of “if” you’ll get injured so much as a question of “when” and “how badly.” The New York Giants in particular are used to losing players to the injury bug, so when wide receiver Sterling Shepard fractured his thumb trying to haul in a pass on Thursday, it wasn’t a surprise. Certainly deflating for it to happen on the first day of training camp, but injuries are part of the game.
The question now becomes: Now what?
Every football player who isn’t a starter is hoping for his chance, his opportunity to step up and show what he can do. Nobody wants their chance to come at the expense of a teammate’s health, particularly one that the team is counting on to be a major piece of the puzzle going forward.
But nobody is going to turn this chance down, either.
So which receivers stand to gain the most while Shepard is on the sidelines?
1 - Golden Tate
This might seem a bit counterintuitive, that a player most already considered to be a starter and one of the team’s top options would be in a position to benefit from Shepard’s injury. However, one of the concerns with Tate was the similarities between how he and Shepard play. Tate has, historically, been a slot specialist who is at his best catching short passes and picking up yards after the catch. Given that the Giants obviously want to lean on the run game, and the importance of forcing defenses to take defenders out of the tackle box, it’s possible that Tate could have seen his opportunities limited in favor of options who offer more upside downfield. That could have been particularly true if the Giants lean on their 12-personnel package. Now those similarities should let him move into the role the Giants had in mind for Shepard and give him more reps to get used to the Giants’ offense and Eli Manning.
2 - Evan Engram
Picking up reps from wide receivers has become something of an annual tradition for Engram. Each time he’s stepped up and upped his game with increased opportunities. How the Giants have used Engram has been one of the most frustrating things about their offense, but this is a chance for Engram to get more reps at the slot or split out wide. He should take the opportunity to show off his abilities as a mismatch nightmare and playmaker, hopefully entrenching himself as a featured player in the offense.
3 - Corey Coleman
Coleman should make the team based on his upside as a kick returner, but this is a chance to carve out a significant role in the offense. Coleman has never lived up to his draft pedigree, but this is a chance to do just that. With Tate and Cody Latimer moving up the depth chart, Coleman will likely become the third receiver, getting more reps with the starters and a chance to prove that he has the route running and ball skills to stay there — as well as the ability to play as fast as he ran the 40-yard dash.
[UPDATE] Of course shortly after this was written the Giants announced that Coleman tore his ACL in Thursday's practice. His opportunity will probably shift to players like Russell Shepard and Alonzo Russell.
4 - Da’Mari Scott
One of the newest Giants, Scott was on the Buffalo Bills a week ago. He faces a sharp learning curve if he wants to get up to speed fast enough to impress the coaching staff. Scott has a versatile frame and experience as both a receiver at the NFL level and as a returner. With more reps, he will get that many more opportunities to show improvement and usefulness to his new team. The other younger players will get the same opportunities, but as the newest receiver Scott has the most to gain.
5 - Darius Slayton
The Giants are eager to see what they have in the 2019 draftee. His reps could increase if Coleman and Latimer get more starting reps. Of course, Slayton has to get back on the field first after missing Thursday’s practice with a hamstring injury. He has a lot of work to do learning the art of being a wide receiver at the NFL level, and the more reps he gets, the better. Also, the more opportunities he sees, the more chances he has to show that his athleticism makes him a difference maker and potentially earn a bigger role in the passing attack.