Sterling Shepard Will Outperform His Draft Stock
Sterling Shepard was selected 40th overall by the New York Giants, and he will outperform his draft position.
If that sounds like a bold and definitive statement, you’re right. But there has been one key indicator of early NFL success among recent rookie wide receivers, and it’s the ability to run nuanced routes and beat press coverage regularly. Shepard is -- without a doubt -- the best route runner in this class.
Why, then, am I so confident in his future prospects?
Here's how Shepard performed in his Oklahoma career. As you'd expect, he showed gradual improvement each season, until he exploded in 2015 for over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
As a receiver who predominantly plays in the slot, Shepard has perfected the art of nuanced route running to create separation. Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception tool indicated that the Oklahoma wideout was successful against press coverage on 91% of his attempts, which blew away the field (for reference, the second best was Josh Doctson, at 83%). At just 5’10”, 194 pounds, it’s hard to understand how he can consistently beat defensive backs that are often larger than him off the line. As we’ll see, Shepard is far more athletic than he’s typically given credit for.
He ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine after benching 20 reps and posting a 41-inch vertical jump. While these numbers were better than expected, they reflect the skills Shepard has put on tape. He has greatly improved at going up and winning contested catches and has the ability to distance himself from his defender on deep routes. There are some holes in his game, as is the case with most receiving prospects coming out of college, but his technical proficiency hints at future success.
Shepard in New York
Shepard gets to begin his career alongside Odell Beckham in East Rutherford. In terms of fit, there wasn't a much better situation for Shepard to land in. There are 995 snaps and 90 targets vacated by Rueben Randle's departure from New York, and Victor Cruz can't be counted on as a real contributor to the offense.
Shepard may never be a double-digit touchdown scorer, but he has showed that he can play on the outside of formations even though he doesn’t do it often. Ben McAdoo's offense utilizes three-wide receiver formations frequently, which will allow Shepard to see plenty of the field as a rookie. He doesn't need to be the primary target in the passing game, but he's talented enough to take pressure off Beckham.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Shepard receive 80-100 targets as a rookie. Opposing defenses are going to have an extremely hard time covering two phenomenal route runners on a weekly basis, and it won't take long for him to prove that he fell too far in the draft.