In what seems like the blink of an eye, Shepard is set to enter his fourth year in the NFL. Last year saw Shepard with career highs in receptions (66), receiving yards (872) and yards per catch (13.2). In each of his first three seasons in the league, Shepard has improved statistically and developed into a true playmaker in the open field.
Given that the Giants traded Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason, the chance is there for Shepard to become a true star of this team. This is the hope, especially since Shepard has helped carry this offense before.
Over the past two years, Beckham has missed a combined 16 games. That’s a full season of games, giving Shepard plenty of time to be the team’s top target.
“I think that’s just naturally what’s going to happen,” Shepard said Tuesday following the first day of minicamp. “[Beckham] was such a big part of this offense. I guess I’m the next one up in line. We also have a lot of great other guys that can make plays as well. Golden Tate has been looking great out there at practice. Cody Latimer had some great plays today too.”
In Shepard, the Giants have a playmaker with good hands. And with 43 games played the first three seasons of his career, he is relatively dependable as well.
Entering his 10th season in the league, Tate has three times topped 1,000 receiving yards in a season. The hope is that Tate, signed as a free agent this offseason, and Shepard along with Latimer can bring balanced production to a passing offense that was often one-dimensional in the past few years.
“You can move us around anywhere on the field. We’re just natural playmakers,” Shepard said of Tate. “Wherever you put us, we’re going to find a way to get open and find a way to get the ball and make things happen after the catch. That’s what he’s been great at his whole career – making things happen after the catch. I don’t think that’s going to stop now.”
The hope is that Shepard and Tate can combine to be good, reliable outlets for the Giants. While this offense is likely transitioning to being centered around running back Saquon Barkley, the need for the wide receivers to step up in the absence of Beckham will be key for the Giants to take the next step.
In terms of role or designations, the Giants don’t seem caught up in the whole idea of Shepard replacing Beckham. This idea of a balanced offense in the wake of the Beckham trade means that Shepard doesn’t have to become the No. 1 target this offseason.
“I believe Sterling Shepard is going to be the best Sterling Shepard that he can be,” wide receiver coach Tyke Tolbert said. “One … two … five … six …Doesn’t matter what number receiver you put on it, he’s going to be the best Sterling Shepard he can be and that’s how we are going to approach it.”