The last time the New York Giants made the playoffs, wide receiver Sterling Shepard was a rookie catching passes from Eli Manning and running routes alongside Odell Beckham Jr. As the lone remaining member of that 2016 roster, Shepard is the only Giant who knows what it feels like to have a winning season in the Big Apple.
He also knows what it’s like to start a season off poorly. After dropping games to the Denver Broncos and Washington Football Team, New York is 0-2 for the fifth consecutive year. Past Giants teams have spent the remainder of the season mired in locker room drama and head coach firings, but Shepard feels certain that will not be the case this time.
“Everybody’s pretty mentally tough on this team,” Shepard said in a video call with Big Blue View to promote the new Tide Cold Washer. “I think [head coach Joe] Judge and ownership and [general manager] Dave [Gettleman] have done a great job of getting guys with strong mentalities in the locker room, and nobody’s head is dropped.
“I’ve seen this thing go one of two ways. And I’ve been on teams where it’s gone the opposite direction and just kind of let it snowball effect. And I’m not getting that sense with this team — just on a daily basis, seeing how guys are operating.”
Despite the rough start, expectations remain high for the Giants’ offense. Running back Saquon Barkley — who Shepard called “the best person that I’ve seen touch the ball in my career” — broke off a 41-yard run against Washington in his second game back from an ACL tear. Quarterback Daniel Jones had arguably his most impressive performance ever, earning a 91.3 grade from Pro Football Focus — the best for a Giants quarterback since 2012.
Shepard named Jones’ decision-making as his biggest improvement, something he said comes naturally with time.
“This is his second season in this offense,” Shepard said. “And he kind of understands what the coaches want more than last year. It’s tough in a first year in an offense to know exactly what the coaches want. So having that second year and the same offense is huge for him, and you can see it showing.”
Shepard is also off to the best start of his career. He turned his 19 targets — 27 percent of the team’s total — into 207 yards, one touchdown and a league-leading 16 receptions. The increase in production is likely due in part to his return to the slot, where he played primarily in his first three seasons, but he attributed it mainly to the work he put in this spring.
“I worked my tail off over the offseason,” Shepard said. “And the work has shown up on game day. I think Daniel and I’s timing is spot on right now. I mean, we were running routes every other day, and then we had weeks where we would go out of town and get everybody together and run routes. So I think the connection has grown.”
Of course, the plan was for the Giants’ two prized wide receiver acquisitions, Kenny Golladay and first-round draft pick Kadarius Toney, to light up the scoreboard as well. That has not been the case so far; Toney has played just 24 snaps and been targeted twice. Shepard, though, is more focused on what he’s seen from Toney in practice.
“You look at him in practice, and he jumps off the screen,” he said. “Guy’s fast. And we’ll find different ways to get him the ball. You know, it’s his second game of the season, so I think everybody’s quick to start panicking and stuff like that. But none of us in the building are panicking.
“I mean, this is new for him. The speed of the game is different. So any little niche that I can give him to help slow the game down for him is helpful. And that’s what we’ve all been doing for him and along with all the other rookies.”
Golladay and Shepard have already built a strong relationship that extends away from the training facility and into their free time. As the elder statesmen of New York’s wide receiver room, they’ve developed a mutual respect.
“Yeah, I love that dude,” Shepard said of Golladay. “Great guy, a great player. On those fifty-fifty balls, usually he’s going to come down with it. And I just love how strong he plays … when he looks like he’s covered, he’s not.”
As part of the Tide partnership, Shepard spoke about the company’s new NFL-themed Cold Washer. The Giants edition comes equipped with Shepard’s voice reminding users to wash with cold water, which saves money and is better for the environment. A sweepstakes to win one is currently running at Tide.com.
And as for how this year’s roster stacks up against the others Shepard has been a part of? Frankly, he couldn’t care less.
“I’m not really big into what we look like on paper, because none of that really matters,” he said. “You see it year in and year out: teams that look good on paper, and then don’t have a successful season. I really think it comes down to preparation and your attention to detail. We’re focused on the now and getting better week to week.”