One of the most underrated Giants on the roster is the longest-tenured player. Sterling Shepard was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
He’s been targeted 468 times, catching 317 balls for 3,581 yards with 20 career touchdowns. The 28-year-old receiver has flashed in his career, but he has struggled to stay healthy.
Shepard signed a four-year, $41 million contract with the Giants, including a $10 million signing bonus, with slightly over $21million guaranteed. He is currently in his second season on this deal that expires in 2024.
After this season, where the dead cap hit is north of $10 million, his contract becomes easier to maneuver around if the Giants decide to go in another direction.
The dead cap drops to $4 million during 2022; there’s speculation that Shepard if he doesn’t stay healthy this season, may not last through the entirety of his contract with the additions of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney.
This is conjecture at this point, but a healthy and productive Shepard may help silence these qualms. Let’s look at Shepard’s edition of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly to see why he is important to the Giants.
The Good: Adjusting to Balls in Flight
Adjusting to footballs doesn’t always mean that the quarterback was off when throwing. On this play, Shepard’s only leverage was the back-shoulder throw and catch, and Jones noticed it as well.
Once Shepard turns his head to locate the football, the ball isn’t far from his location. He quickly gets his shoulders turned, finds the ball, and adjusts to make a catch away from the defender. It was a good showing of rapport from the wide receiver and quarterback.
Then there are instances like this play where the throw wasn’t ideal. This is supposed to be a bang-bang type of play. Once the defenders who are crossing Shepard’s face due to the flat route are evaded, then the quarterback hits him in stride, but Jones doesn’t fully step into his throw, and he leans a bit backward and away from it, which affects the accuracy. Shepard does a good job adjusting but can’t get many yards after the catch.
Here’s another video from the Tampa Bay game where it’s a different type of instance. Shepard is running a flat route, and the Buccaneers bring a five-man pressure package from a split safety, middle of the field open, quarters type of look.
Shepard has to concentrate to pull this one in because a Buccaneers’ defender is just a hair late to the catch point. Shepard secures the pass and goes out of bounds.
This play embodies the “Good” and “Great” from this article. Shepard does a really good job keeping his defender honest with his route, breakdown, quick shimmy, and decision to go inside while occupying the slot.
Another defender is waiting for him once he breaks inside, but he quickly adjusts to a high throw, knowing of an impending hit, and then quickly embraces the contact and hangs onto the football.
This is another type of adjustment that also coincides with the “Great” part of this writing. The adjustment that Shepard makes on this route to put himself in front of the football and the defender shows great processing skills and spatial awareness.
Shepard is in the slot and runs the search type of route where he is looking for the voided area -- essentially, just get open and find space in a generalized location.
If he were to maintain the angle on the 35-yard-line, then the pass would have certainly been undercut. Instead, Shepard mends his route back towards the quarterback, adjusts, and provides an easy completion while making men miss for extra yardage.
The Great: Route Running
Sterling Shepard runs one of the best pivot routes in the league, which is a gigantic part of what Jason Garrett likes to employ in his offense.
Shepard motions to the top of the screen on this play; watch how good he is at selling the drag route and see how both defenders crash into each other in an attempt to stop Shepard from going over the middle of the field. Shepard then just stops on a dime, pivots outside, and is wide open for an easy first-down catch. He just sinks his hips so quickly.
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Shepard gets the best of Trevon Diggs (27), who is in off coverage here near the goal line, and Shepard hits him with another pivot route into space.
He starts at the bottom of the numbers, goes to about two yards inside the numbers (selling the shallow), before exploding back outside with leverage, and a defender with his momentum going in the opposite direction.
The double verts out of bunch open up and clear out room for Shepard's pivot route on this play, but we can still see how quick and effortless it is for Shepard to stop his momentum and turn to present a target to his quarterback. Then Shepard, as he’s one to do, falls forward for a few extra tough yards.
The Giants catch the Eagles in a BANJO coverage switch. Shepard goes outside, and the defenders switch based on the route distribution.
However, the shallow nature of Darius Slayton’s (86) route keeps the defender on the line of scrimmage, which opens up the inside move from Shepard.
This was a really good design by Garrett to allow Shepard to explode inside, using his change of direction ability, to find a soft spot behind the coverage -- great designed leverage by the Giants and excellent route from Shepard.
His releases off the line of scrimmage will be grouped into his route running here because he does a great job setting his routes up with his pristine releases.
Shepard is at the top of the screen going against a cornerback who has inside leverage; see how Shepard fires his feet at the line of scrimmage and gets into the cornerback's leverage.
The Eagles player does a solid job being patient and not overcommitting early, but the shimmy shoulder/head fake from Shepard right before he breaks gets the cornerback to glide a bit too far inside, allowing Shepard all the space he needs between the numbers and the sidelines. Unfortunately, the football was not thrown.
Shepard releases inside at the top of the screen and does a great job setting up the pivot back outside through tight coverage.
He uses his hands to keep the defender off his frame, which is necessary due to the coverage, and then he accelerates past the cornerback into space to provide Jones an easy touchdown pass. Shepard plants that inside foot into the ground to stop, and his momentum just seizes -- he’s good with his change of direction ability.
The Ugly: Injury History
Shepard has been hampered for much of his career. He missed weeks 3-7 when he was hurt just before halftime in week two, with a foot injury.
He had a Grade 3 concussion in October of 2019, a Grade 1 concussion in September of that same year, and another Grade 1 concussion in college. It's also been reported (via sportsinjurypredictor.com) that he had two Grade 1 concussions in high school.
Shepard also suffered severe migraines in 2017 that sidelined him for a couple of games. The head issues are scary, but he’s also had other hampering injuries that may have led to him being less than himself on the football field.
A cervical neck strain, pulled hamstring, and two separate sprained ankles all happened in 2017 for the then second-year wide receiver.
Shepard has started this offseason that his goal is to play in all 17 games; if that’s the case, the Giants offense will be much more efficient, even with all the new additions. Shepard is a valuable asset that shouldn’t go overlooked.
His ability to be on time with his routes, his toughness over the middle of the field, and his overall effectiveness as a professional wide receiver will only be enhanced by the presence of Golladay, Toney, and a healthy Saquon Barkley.
Let’s hope we get to see Shepard on the field for 17 games.
More "Good, Great & Ugly" Breakdowns
WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney | ILB Reggie Ragland | WR John Ross | TE Kyle Rudolph | OLB Oshane Ximines | LB Carter Coughlin | DL Dexter Lawrence II | WR Darius Slayton | LB Cam Brown | DL Leonard Williams | OL Will Hernandez | IDL Austin Johnson | IDL B.J. Hill
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