What’s in store for second-year receiver Sterling Shepard?
Sterling Shepard was initially drafted to be the Giants’ slot receiver for the foreseeable future, a role for which the second-year man out of Oklahoma is custom-made. He is fearless going over the middle, which is something you just can’t teach a young receiver. He’s quick enough to make a tackler miss in the open field, and he’s a smart football player.
However, like many of the receivers on last year’s team, Shepard’s Kryptonite was man-to-man coverage. Part of the reason the Giants passing game struggled outside of Odell Beckham Jr. is that none of the receivers could consistently beat man-to-man coverage and get open for Eli Manning to find them.
If you think about it, that’s inexcusable considering that Beckham drew double coverage, which left the other receivers with the single task of beating their man. That they couldn’t do it is a big reason for the passing game’s decline from 2015 to 2016.
Even with the additions of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram, receivers like Shepard are still going to have to show that they can take advantage of single coverage, that they can beat the guy across from them. If Shepard can do that, then expect him to take a big leap forward in his second year.
So, what exactly happened to him last year after his hot start?
We touched on this above, but let’s go into a little more detail. Shepard struggled at times to separate and get open, those struggles settling in after the first month of the season.
In his first four games, Shepard caught 22 of 27 pass targets (81 percent). That changed as the season went on and teams figure out how to minimize the damage Beckham was capable of inflicting. In his last 11 games, he caught 43 of 74 pass targets (58 percent), with zero pass targets in Week 12.
Among the potential issues here include Shepard’s struggles to beat man-on-man coverage and his struggles to fight off being jammed.
Theoretically if a receiver is drawing double coverage, as was often the case for Odell Beckham Jr., his fellow receivers should be able to inflict their own damage.
That wasn’t the case with Shepard, who while fearless as a receiver, especially going over the middle, needs to get stronger in the upper body, quicker, and more effective with swatting away defenders who try to jam him.
Is he going to lose snaps to Evan Engram in the slot?
If the Giants can get a size advantage by putting Engram in the slot, then they’d be foolish not to do it in the right situations.
With that said, we don’t think that means Shepard is going to the bench when Engram lines up in the slot. Head coach Ben McAdoo and the offensive coaches experimented with some different looks in the spring to keep Shepard involved.
Remember, the goal is to create mismatches. Last year due in part to injuries and due in part to the ineffectiveness of some of the talent, the coaching staff couldn’t quite be as multiple in offense as it probably would have liked. this year, if everyone stays healthy, there’s every reason to think this offense is going to easily climb back into the top-10 league wide.
During the spring, Shepard spoke about wanting to be more effective with yards after the catch—of his 683 receiving yards, only 258 came after the catch—37.7 percent.
That desire of his ties in with the need to get quicker in his routes and to separate. In the spring drills, he appeared to be quicker, but with no contact allowed, we couldn’t gauge any improvement in fighting off the jam.
One other thing to watch for this summer is how Shepard ends up being used. As previously noted, the addition of Evan Engram and Brandon Marshall should give the coaching staff greater flexibility regarding how they move their various receiving weapons around.
Shepard, who lined up mostly in the slot as a rookie, will probably see more snaps as an outside receiver in his second season as part of that personnel chess match.