Every year we see rookie players assigned numbers after the draft, then assigned more permanent numbers after rosters are trimmed just before the start of the season.
Less often we get word of veterans changing numbers. Usually a veteran changing their number is prompted by a rookie making a deal for a number they wore in college, or something similar for a new teammate.
Tuesday afternoon, New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard posted on his own Instagram account (and reported by Madelyn Burke of WFAN), that he would be swapping the “87” he’s worn since being drafted in 2016 to wear number 3 in 2021.
Sterling Shepard will wear no 3 this season, changing from his previous 87 pic.twitter.com/1owh3CjCHf— Madelyn Burke (@MadelynBurke) May 11, 2021
Shepard says that he is “Getting back to [his] roots,” and indeed he is.
Shepard wore number 3 as a wide receiver for Oklahoma, when he was widely regarded as one of the top receivers in the country. It’s much too soon to say for sure, but perhaps this could also be a signal that Shepard will be taking a more active role in the offense. At Oklahoma he was used as much more of a downfield threat than he has been in the NFL, averaging an average depth of target of more than 13 yards downfield. Shepard has seen his depth of target trend downward from 10.1 yards in 2018 to 8.3 yards downfield in 2020, and a role which sees him used as less of a safety blanket and more of a weapon would be welcome.
There is no word yet (as of this writing) whether Shepard is giving 87 to another player, like Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, or Kyle Rudolph, or if the change was Shepard’s idea.
The post was also liked by former Giant Victor Cruz who, in a nice bit of symmetry, wore number 3 his rookie season as an undrafted free agent. Somehow, I doubt defensive coordinators will be asking who “3” is, and wondering whether he’s a wildcat quarterback.