This article is coming from the least biased place I can find in my heart. All Giants homer feelings aside, we need to discuss wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
Do not Sell Sterling Shepard.
Read it over. I understand the concern with New York Giants players. Being a Giants’ fan, I can relate to the thrill of getting rid of and/or not drafting Shepard.
Here are my top three reasons to be high on Shepard for the next season.
All things aside, he had a great season.
It is definitely shocking and a hard pill to swallow, but the truth is Shepard had a great season. He missed four games due to a turf toe injury which prevented him from having a complete 16 game season. Despite the injury, he still matched a career-high 66 receptions he set in 2018. Shepard finished the year with 656 yards and three touchdowns. Additionally, Shepard had six rush attempts for 49 yards and an additional touchdown. This all occurred in a sedated Giants offense. My next point will be somewhat contradictory to my next reason you should keep Shepard, but must be spoken on so bear with me.
Shepard did have his career high of 73.3 catch percentage average this season. To be clear, this was one of the highest catch percentages in the entire league amongst wide receivers with a minimum of 75 targets. Despite all the rankings flying around, Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treash evaluated the analytic site’s 25 highest-graded wide receivers for 2020, and Shepard made that list at number 23. It is important to once again reiterate that Shepard’s “success” this season occurred with an essentially useless, non-productive offense. The Giants were only successful on 72 out of 198 third down conversions, averaged 5.0 yards per play (4.4 yards per rushing yards and 6.5 passing yards), ended the season with 25 offensive touchdowns, and had an average time of possession of around 28 minutes. The Giants offensive statistics all fell to the bottom half of the league.
Magic Wide Receiver One Theory
The New York Giants have one dire need: an alfa wide receiver. Shepard plays his best football in tandem, with a primary wide receiver to absorb coverage. His best seasons were his first three prior to falling off in 2019. What do these seasons have in common? Odell Beckham Jr. stealing the spotlight. General manager David Gettleman traded Beckham away in 2019 creating a major void in the offense. He needs to fill that void in the offseason, and particularly in the loaded 2021 draft class. If he does not whiff, Shepard will get the running mate he needs to amplify his success.
I personally can not imagine a hotter scenario for him than a more developed Daniel Jones and a wide receiver one. Shepard closed out this past season with his two best games of the season. Week 17 he had 112 receiving yards with a touchdown, and 80 percent catch percentage. Week 16 Sterling had 77 receiving yards, one touchdown, and 75.5 percent catch percentage. If offensive play-caller Jason Garrett expanded Shepard’s repertoire this could have been his overall best year.
Ignore the Clapper
Shepard essentially did nothing vertically with a vanilla, Jason Garrett-led offense. Despite that he brought himself to 16th in receiving grades on non-vertical route targets. How? Because Shepard will cook with or without Garrett. As discussed above, he simply needs a wide receiver one to alleviate the pressure and create a well-rounded offense.
I would not be a true homer without addressing quarterback Daniel Jones. Regardless of the chirping, Jones did improve over the past year. You cannot make cookies out of dirt; the young quarterback did his best with what was provided to him. Jones was expected to rely on Evan Engram and Darius Slayton as pass catchers in a Garrett designed play book. Before jumping down my throat to defend Engram and Slayton, look at the numbers.
Engram is sitting ugly at a 57.8 catch percentage rate with (for lack of a better term) a pathetic single receiving touchdown. He was the most targeted player on the Giants despite a complete lack of performance. Most sites have come to a consensus that Engram cost the team independently 35 points.
On the other hand is Mr. Glorified Slayton. Do not get me wrong, Slayton is a fantastic wide receiver. But, he is not a primary wide receiver or even a binary for that matter. Slayton catch percentage was 52.1 percent and with 96 targets he only brought in three touchdowns. In the end, Slayton lost the Giants a total of 11 points.
Combined Engram and Slayton lost the team 46 points. Why does this matter? It matters because under Joe Judge things will *fingers crossed* likely continue to improve over the off-season. Garrett will continue to be the offensive coordinator, but he will have an entire off-season with the players and the playbook. As we saw when he was the coordinator of the Cowboys, Garrett is not completely without capability.
What is the good news though? He is a great snag in all variations of leagues. If you have him in dynasty—stash him. If you are drafting early for start-ups, take him when he drops to the fifth round. Without a doubt Shepard will have a serious career high year in 2021 and while everyone else is jumping off the Shepard train be sure to jump right on. It is always tempting to sell players on poor performing teams, but tread lightly because there are plenty of studs in the making.