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What can Giants expect from WR Sterling Shepard?

Shep is back for his eighth season in New York

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s no longer all that meaningful to say that Sterling Shepard is the longest-tenured member of the New York Giants. He has been since Eli Manning retired following the 2019 season, and at this point the phrase fails to truly capture Shepard’s experience with the team.

Shepard, as he enters his eighth NFL season, has become a sort of microcosm of the Giants organization itself. He’s played for four head coaches. He’s been on the roster for the team’s two most recent playoff trips, as well as the five straight losing seasons that came in between. And he’s struggled to stay on the field, just like many of his teammates.

Now, Shepard is working his way back from his second season-ending leg injury in as many years. His goal is to play Week 1. Let’s take a look back at Shepard’s career so far, and discuss what we can expect from him moving forward.

By the numbers

Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 196
Age: 30
Position: Wide receiver
Experience: 8
Contract: One-year, $1.317 million; $0 guaranteed | 2023 cap hit: $1.054 million

Career to date

When he’s on the field, Shepard has been a reliable — and occasionally outstanding — wide receiver. He’s been a starter since Week 1 of his 2016 rookie season, a year in which he totaled 683 receiving yards and a career-high eight touchdowns.

Over the next few years, Shepard proved to be a savvy route runner and versatile receiver. He’s played on the outside and in the slot, where he played primarily en route to a career-high 872 receiving yards in 2018. For his career, 2018 was also the last time Shepard played a full season. He tore his Achilles against the Dallas Cowboys in December 2021 and made it back in time for the start of next season — when he tore his ACL in a non-contact incident at the end of a Week 3 game against the Cowboys. Shepard promised almost immediately that it would not be the end of his career. He remained a locker room leader and had a strong presence on the sidelines throughout the Giants’ 9-7-1 season.

The Giants brought him back this offseason on a one-year deal at the veteran minimum.

2023 outlook

It’s anyone’s guess how much Shepard, 30, has left in the tank. His game is predicated on agility and acceleration, allowing him to create separation from defenders. It’s very possible that consecutive leg injuries have had long-term effects on his quickness. It’s also unknown when Shepard will be fully recovered, though he was seen running routes during minicamp and recently stated that his goal is to be ready for Week 1.

His experience and dependability will allow him to find some role on the field if he’s healthy. Shepard’s ability to line up anywhere on the field is also important, since the Giants have a number of other smaller receivers that can thrive out of the slot. Still, perhaps expectations should be tempered somewhat for Shepard this year.

Shepard has never really been a true No. 1 receiver, and he hasn’t played with one since the Giants traded away Odell Beckham Jr. That’s often left Shepard to shoulder an undue proportion of attention from opposing defenses. The expectation is that new tight end Darren Waller will prove to the best Giants receiving threat since Beckham, opening up the field a bit more for Shepard.

Despite not having a 1,000-yard season, Shepard’s 362 career receptions rank eighth in Giants history. He only needs 34 more catches to overtake Joe Morrison for third place on the list. A healthy season could also see him skyrocket up from 16th place on the franchise’s all-time receiving yards leaderboard.

Regardless of how he fares from here on out, Shepard will be remembered as one of the definitive Giants players of the 21st century so far.