The New York Giants may have found a missing piece they have been looking for in Sterling Shepard, who has been nothing short of superb thus far.
What is the common denominator between the last two Super Bowl winning New York Giants teams? They both had two legitimate wide receivers with the ability to step up at any time and make game-changing plays.
In 2007, they had Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. In 2011, it was Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. And in 2016, the Giants may have found their next great tandem — and neither one is over 23 years old.
Odell Beckham Jr. has had arguably the best start to a career of any wide receiver to ever play this game. His ability to change the entire course of a game with a single play is unmatched, and his highlight reel grabs are jaw dropping. But for his entire career thus far, he has done it without a legitimate secondary receiving option.
The duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, which was slated to be one of the top tandems in all of football, got derailed before it even took off. After Beckham Jr. missed the first four games in 2015, the two played fewer than two games together before Cruz went down with a torn patellar tendon.
And over a year and half later, Cruz has yet to return to a regular season game, missing all of last season with a torn calf.
Even though we have seen promising signs this spring that Cruz will be ready to go in Dallas on opening night, nobody knows just how effective he would be if he were to return. Now this is where Shepard comes into play.
With the 40th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Giants selected wide receiver Sterling Shepard of Oklahoma. Shepard dropped into the second round due to his lack of elite size, standing at 5’10” and weighing 194 pounds.
However, he consistently plays bigger than his size and has fantastic hands. He backed that up by dropping only four passes in his entire collegiate career. Not to be outdone, he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and led all wide receivers at the combine in bench press reps (20) and vertical jump (41.0 inches).
As he was the fourth receiver taken in the draft, the expectations were likely that Shepard would contribute to some extent as rookie, but would not be immediately counted on to be a key cog in an already potent offense. However, after his performance OTAs and Minicamp, the expectations have skyrocketed.
From the moment he arrived at the Giants’ facility, he has absolutely dazzled his teammates and coaching staff. His humble demeanor and fantastic work ethic have only been topped by his play when he has stepped onto the practice field.
Right out of the gate, he caught everyone’s attention when he caught every pass that was thrown to him at OTAs and made a one-handed catch reminiscent of a certain wide receiver counterpart.
And as the spring progressed, Shepard continued to steal the show. He made catch after catch and demonstrated the top tier route running ability that had many scouts deeming him the 2016 draft class’ top route runner.
Despite the countless other storylines during the spring, the buzz seemed to be centered on the rookie wideout.
He has gone from a second round pick projecting to have a modest role in the offense to a clear frontrunner to win the second wide receiver job and potential offensive rookie of the year candidate in just a handful of practices. He has looked that good.
"He's going to be a phenomenal player." – Odell on Sterling Shepard #Giants
— New York Giants (@Giants) June 14, 2016
Now, heading into the summer with weeks away from football, Shepard will continue to work to learn the intricacies of Ben McAdoo’s offense and prepare his body for the punishment of an NFL season.
As the start of training camp nears, the hype should only get bigger for Sterling Shepard. In fewer than two months with the team he has already flashed the potential to be great.