Sterling Shepard has never had to lead before. The wide receiver was drafted from Oklahoma by the New York Giants with the belief that he would be a number two receiver next to Odell Beckham Jr. The two players would in theory be able to help each other out, with Shepard getting openings when defenses focused on Beckham, while at other times forcing the opposing defense to split up their coverage rather than putting all their attention on the number one receiver spot.
However, the situation changed drastically this offseason when Beckham was sent off to the Cleveland Browns and Shepard was left as the best receiver on the team, signing a contract for $41M and four years in the process. The new contract is a big step forward for the receiver but it also comes with big expectations, particularly, expectations to lead the team forward this season in their first recent one without Beckham.
It’s hard to say how Shepard is going to adjust to that, but according to teammates, progress seems to be going well so far leading into training camp next month.
“Sterling’s leading us. He always had that dawg in him. You see the aggressiveness that he comes to the field with every day, both how he plays and how he practices. He’s going to be loud, hyping up his guys, pushing us,” fellow receiver Cody Latimer said about Shepard, while speaking to NJ Advance Media. “I’ve seen the growth in him, and he’s still young.”
“There’s so much more growing for him to do. And, he got that nice new deal this offseason? Yeah, he’s about to do some amazing things this year,” continued Latimer.
Shepard finished with 872 yards last season and will be on the hunt to break 1,000 yards for the first time in any of his three seasons, which looks like it could be a likely outcome based on his projected higher usage. He won’t have to lead the Giants alone – with Latimer getting healthy and Golden Tate joining the team from the Eagles, the receiving corps will look very different this year. Time will tell whether the changes are positive or not.