Sterling Shepard, New York Giants Find Perfect Fit With Each Other
In selecting Will Fuller in the first round of the draft, the Houston Texans forced a pick on a receiver because of one specific trait. They looked past his flaws and overstated the impact of that specific trait on their offense as a whole to justify the move. On the other side of the spectrum, the New York Giants found a perfect blend of scheme fit, need and value in the second round.
The Giants selected wide receiver Sterling Shepard with the 40th-overall pick in the draft.
Shepard was a need pick for the Giants. In 2015, the Giants receivers were amongst the worst in the league. Eli Manning threw for more than 4,300 yards and had at least 30 touchdowns for the second season in a row, but he should have had significantly more. From the PSR QB Catalogue, Manning’s receivers cost him 62 completions for 563 yards and five touchdowns last year. Only three quarterbacks lost more receptions than him, seven lost more yards and eight lost more touchdowns. Furthermore, four of Manning’s 14 interceptions were the fault of his receivers.
After Manning led the league in interceptions during his final season in Kevin Gilbride’s offense, the Giants made a drastic change by hiring McAdoo as their offensive coordinator. McAdoo is now the team’s head coach but the offensive philosophy shouldn’t change.
Where Gilbride’s offense set Manning up to be inconsistent and turnover prone, McAdoo’s does everything it can to alleviate the pressure on the quarterback. Manning doesn’t have to execute elongated play fakes or deep dropbacks before forcing the ball into coverage downfield. McAdoo’s offense emphasizes spread formations where Manning can get rid of the ball quickly to short and intermediate routes. He only takes shots downfield when it suits him to.
In this offense, you need quick receivers who can work the underneath level of the defense while also threatening big plays with the ball in their hands. That is the type of receiver that Shepard should be from the beginning of his rookie season.
Shepard is lightning quick. He has extremely light feet that allow him to elude defenders in space with ease. Despite his relatively small frame, he also shows off impressive strength to shed arm tackles once he has gained a leverage advantage. Shepard can create those advantages because of his balance that is born from his low center of gravity. In the above play, Shepard is able to evade the initial defender despite catching the ball with his back to him while moving towards the sideline.
His strength can be seen as he accelerates out of the arm tackle from the initial defender and carries through the second tackler so he can fall into the endzone.
The former Oklahoma receiver played in the slot a lot in college. Even before measuring 5’10” and 194 lbs at the combine he was being labelled as just a slot receiver. Sterling shouldn’t be limited to the slot in the NFL, but his skill set will allow him to thrive working the middle of the field. Shepard understands how to find space against different coverages and he plays with the balance and quickness to get to spots between linebackers and safeties. He can absorb big hits but, like in the play above, he can also avoid big hits with his quick-twitch movement.
McAdoo could put Shepard in the slot and ask him to primarily play from that spot. If everything goes as planned, he will play outside more than inside.
Victor Cruz didn’t play a single snap in 2015 as he recovered from a serious knee injury. Nobody knows if Cruz is going to play in 2016 or, more importantly, how well he can play. If Cruz is fully healthy and back to what he was before his injury, then he will primarily play in the slot. That will create a three-receiver set of Beckham, Cruz and Shepard. All three receivers could play inside but Cruz staying inside would be the ideal scenario to get the most out of each player’s skill set.
The beauty of that trio playing together in this scheme is that they will stretch the defense both horizontally and vertically. None of the three players are particularly big, but each has shown off an ability to win at the catch point.
Shepard is a very technical receiver. He isn’t just physically gifted, he understands how to set up defensive backs and make the most of his physical ability by running precise routes. His timing on this play is perfect as he forces the cornerback to turn the wrong way as he releases down the sideline. The play is always set up for a backshoulder throw but the pass isn’t a good one. Shepard is forced to adjust to the ball in order to bring it in.
He doesn’t catch the ball away from his body by reaching his hands out to pull the ball in. This wasn’t a time for a spectacular looking catch. This was a situation where bodycatching was the right approach because you needed to protect the ball and prevent the defensive back from playing your outstretched arms. Shepard’s timing and willingness to work back inside of the defensive back allows him to complete this catch.
Shepard will be replacing Rueben Randle, another former second-round pick of Jerry Reese’s. Randle and Shepard are total opposites. Shepard is a small receiver who plays big whereas Randle was/is a big receiver who plays small.
One of the main issues that Randle had was tracking the ball through the air. He wouldn’t establish himself in good positions to pull the ball in so he would be forced to contort his body uncomfortably or try to make a hands catch that he simply didn’t have the talent to make with any kind of consistency. While Shepard won’t tower over any cornerback in the NFL, he will make the most out of his size by expertly tracking the ball and manipulating the defensive back covering him in tight situations.
That’s not to say that Shepard doesn’t have issues at the catch point. He had more than a few ugly drops last year. He shouldn’t be close to as inconsistent at the catch point as the receivers he’s replacing in New York. More importantly, Shepard will offer greater explosiveness and diversity to offset any inconsistency he does carry into the NFL.
None of the Giants’ top receivers are amongst the most consistent pass catchers in the league, but each of Shepard, Beckham and Cruz offer enough in the rest of their skill sets to minimize the impact of those inconsistencies.
The Giants still have major question marks on their offensive line. They won’t be able to give Manning great pass protection. Manning has shown throughout his career that he can work in muddied pockets. He’s shown that he can mitigate pressure with his movement and deliver the ball against impending hits. You need to be set up schematically to do that effectively though. Manning has been since McAdoo took over and now he has the receivers to capitalize on the quality service he provides.