Since taking over as general manager, Dave Gettleman has pretty much gutted the New York Giants of nearly all vestiges of the Jerry Reese era.
Sterling Shepard is one of the few exceptions. Not only is the wide receiver, drafted by Reese in the second round in 2016, still a Giant, he is the only Reese-era player in whom Gettleman has placed a heavy financial investment.
Did Gettleman and the Giants made a good investment when they gave Shepard a four-year, $41 million contract ($21.26 million guaranteed) before the 2019 season?
Let’s take a closer look.
Position: Wide receiver
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $41 million contract | Guaranteed: $21.26 million
How he got here
Shepard has had relatively consistent catch numbers — 65, 59, 66, 57 — in his four seasons. He missed five games in 2017 with a myriad of injuries and six games in 2019 with a pair of concussions, so availability has sometimes been an issue.
Fro the first three seasons of his career, Shepard was usually ‘Robin’ to Odell Beckham Jr.’s ‘Batman.’ A dependable sidekick who could sometimes do spectacular things, but was never going to be the star of the show.
The Giants paid Shepard handsomely to keep him through 2022, but they didn’t really PAY him. His average annual salary of $10.25 million is 22nd among wide receivers.
They were hoping Shepard would ascend to the No. 1 wide receiver role in 2019, but that didn’t really happen. A preseason thumb injury, concussions, and — to be honest — the presence of Golden Tate — conspired against that.
Tate and Shepard are both players who have had the majority of their career success playing in the slot. Shepard’s snaps in the slot went down from 517 in 2018 to 256 in 2019. He caught a career-best 5.7 passes per game last season, but many of his other numbers went down. He averaged a career-low 10.1 yards per catch, 3.1 yards less than in 2018. His yards per target dropped from 8.1 to 6.9. Shepard’s yards before catch per reception dropped from 8.5 to 7.0. His yards after catch dropped from 4.7 yards per reception to 3.1.
Our own Nick Falato, writing for Giants Country (and, yes, I hate that he does that but know that people have to make a living), offered this assessment in a Shepard film study:
Shepard is one of the more underrated wide receivers in the league when it comes to his mental processing, route running, and release at the line of scrimmage.
His quickness in and out of breaks stresses good cornerbacks, and his nuanced route-running puts these defenders into really tough situations.
Shepard’s hard foot plants, head/body fakes, and utilization of the “flipper” in tight quarters with a stick-and-nod are well above average.
His ability to create separation on nine routes without quality releases, double moves, or coverage lapses, none of which are his strong suits. But he’s still fast enough to easily be a starting receiver in the NFL, albeit he relies on his quickness a bit more than his deep speed.
His versatility as a slot and boundary receiver is also something that makes him dangerous. Shepard could be primed for a big season in 2020, but he has to stay healthy.
At this point in his career I think we know what Shepard is. That is a good, sometimes really good, quarterback-friendly wide receiver. He will be productive, though probably not dominant or flashy. If he is healthy.
Shepard’s future is clouded by the two concussions he had a season ago. More concussion issues this season could lead to questions about whether or not Shepard should continue to play.
We don’t know at this point how offensive coordinator Jason Garrett plans to deploy Shepard, Tate, and Darius Slayton.
So, then, lots of unknowns. What we do know is that whenever and wherever Shepard plays he should be a productive player.