Sterling Shepard Eyes a Big Jump in Year 2

Sterling Shepard hopes to make more of an impact in the Giants passing game.

Last year, New York Giants receiver Sterling Shepard, then a rookie, knew he could be a part of a really special NFL receiving corps that headlined Odell Beckham Jr. and the long-anticipated return of Victor Cruz.

That trio was supposed to be the new three-headed monster, the unit that gave opposing defensive coordinators fits trying to figure out how to stop them.

Instead, except for Beckham, that trio’s contributions helped send the passing game, that had ranked seventh in 2015 to  17th.

With Cruz having taken his salsa to Chicago,  Shepard, drafted last year in the second round, has been spending his offseason trying to figure out how he can improve.

In his first three NFL games, he caught 84.2 percent of his pass targets for 233 yards (14.6 yards per reception) versus the 58.3 percent of his pass targets for 450 yards (9.2 yards per catch) in his final 12 regular-season games.

“I look at it the same way as in high school,” he said last week when asked about making the jump from his rookie season to his second year as a pro.

“You make a big jump from your sophomore year, and then college the same way. Sophomore year, you get a lot more comfortable. I think it is just adjusting to the speed. I feel a lot more comfortable out here running routes. I know the play system now, so it helps me be a little more comfortable.”

[graphiq id=”8Njm6U4VV9r” title=”Sterling Shepard Targets vs. Rest of Giants in 2016″ width=”600″ height=”521″ url=”” frozen=”true”]

One of the biggest things on Shepard said is on his “to do” list is to improve his yardage after the catch.

“I feel like I could have gotten a lot more YAC yardage last year,” Shepard said. “That is something that I looked at on film and I want to get better on.”

Of his 683 receiving yards in his rookie campaign, 256 came after the catch, a measly 3.9 YAC/reception that put him behind Beckham and Cruz.

It will be interesting to see if Shepard gets the same amount of opportunities to improve his numbers from last year. Standing 5’10” and 194 pounds, Shepard’s size has often raised questions as to whether he’s purely a slot receiver at the level or if he can contribute on the outside as necessary.

In addition to wanting to increase his YACs to make sure he gets his share of pass targets, Shepard, who had 42 receiving first downs last year, might also want to work on improving his percentage of passes caught, which last year was 61.9 percent.

With the addition of 6’4” receiver Brandon Marshall and, in particular, 6’3” tight end Evan Engram, the Giants have been experimenting with personnel groupings that including Engram lining up in Shepard’s slot position.

“The thing that is really intriguing about Evan is the speed component. This is a legitimate vertical threat,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said during the rookie minicamp.

“There is a versatility that he has that we’re hoping can create some problems for the defense from a matchup standpoint because of his speed, and because of the way he runs his routes like a wide receiver.”

That doesn’t mean that Shepard will be left out in the cold. But if he wants to send his statistics on an upward trend, he knows he must make the most of his opportunities this spring and summer.