New York Giants: Victor Cruz predicts breakout year for Sterling Shepard

sterling shepard, new york giants

With recent additions to the wide receiver position, some wondered where Sterling Shepard would fall in the New York Giants‘ plans for this season. However, it looks like Shepard is in for a large role after a training camp and preseason where both Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney have dealt with injury troubles.

Shepard is one of the offense’s main healthy weapons right now, and former Giant Victor Cruz is predicting a big year for the wide receiver.

“I think watch out for Sterling Shepard. I think he’s going to be a guy… Sterling Shepard is going to be a guy that’s going to do some really big things this year that might slip under the radar,” Cruz said to TMZ Sports on Saturday.

Things have changed a lot for Shepard over the past year. He’s had a hard time playing a full season, participating in 10 games in 2019 and 12 games in 2020. He hasn’t had a 1,000 yard receiving season yet, and the closest he came was back in 2018 when he racked up 872 yards.

Because of problems with concussions that led to his long absences in 2019, many believed the Giants should trade the player while his value is still high.

This season appears to be the other way around. Shepard is the healthy one, and it’s other high profile Giants receivers that are at risk of missing time with injury. Given these circumstances, this is just about as good of a time as any for Shepard to have a breakout season and assert himself as the top weapon in the receiving game for Daniel Jones.

Some will undoubtedly be cautious in making predictions about Shepard thanks to his history of missing games, but Victor Cruz is certainly confident in Shepard making something happen this season and definitely knows a thing or two about Giants wide receivers.

Giants’ Sterling Shepard taking on a bigger role as the longest tenure player on the offense

new york giants, sterling shepard

When New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard showed up to training camp bearing the No.3, it was noticeable that something had changed. Shepard, who is entering his sixth season in the NFL, has taken on a much larger role this year.

Aside from being one of the team’s top targets in the receiving game, Shepard has become a mentor and leader behind the scenes, helping some of the younger guys adapt to the NFL.

Ranging from the wide receiver unit to the cornerbacks, Shepard has made an impact on a number of players, including rookie Kadarius Toney and sophomore CB Darnay Holmes.

After practice on Wednesday, Shepard stated that he tries to assist Holmes with his coverage, learning from his mistakes while up against the veteran pass-catcher. Holmes regurgitated Shepard’s comments on Thursday, indicating how much she’s learned from the 28-year-old this off-season.

But Shepard hasn’t only spent time helping others, he’s been working with Daniel Jones this off-season to improve their chemistry and timing with the young quarterback.

“He is a focused young man,’’ wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said. “I just see he’s taken it to another level. It seems like to me he was more football-oriented this summer, more than any other time I’ve been here.’’

Coming to training camp, Shepard made it a priority to get his body in ideal shape. He knows that head coach Joe Judge prefers his players to condition during the off-season and utilizes running as a disciplinary consequence, as he did in the full team brawl that occurred this week.

“I mean, I feel great,’’ Shepard said. “I worked my tail off this offseason to come in the best shape. I think that was one of the things that coach [Joe] Judge and I had a conversation about right before I left for OTAs, just coming in shape and being able to be on the field at all times and being able to run around and move to these different positions and being versatile. That’s the mentality that I had going into the offseason, and I can say that I’m in some of the best shape of my life right now.’’

The New York Giants need the best version of Sterling Shepard:

Sterling is coming off the season where he played in 12 games, amassing 656 yards and three touchdowns. The last time he played an all 16 contests was back in 2018. Injuries have slowed his progression and hurt his continuity with Daniel Jones, but he’s hoping to become a more reliable option for the young passer.

Taking on a leadership role and becoming more than just a player for the Giants is exactly what Judge wants in his veteran players. Shepard is the most tenured Giants on offense, and his impact this season will go far beyond his statistics on the football field.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard an underutilized red-zone weapon

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants have completely overhauled their red-zone offense this offseason. In 2020, the Giants had the second-worst ranked offense in the NFL. New York averaged only 17.5 points per game last season, a truly putrid number.

One of the reasons why the Giants struggled so badly to put points up on the scoreboard was their inefficiency in the red zone. Their red zone scoring percentage ranked 31st in the league in 2020 at 46.34%. Time and time again, the Giants got into scoring range and failed to convert. NFL teams will not find great success without a competent red zone offense.

When the Giants did convert in the red zone last season, more often than not it was thanks to one receiver: Sterling Shepard. Many think of Shepard as a scrappy slot receiver that runs exquisite routes in the intermediate range of the line of scrimmage. But Sterling Shepard is actually a tremendous, yet underutilized red-zone weapon, too.

Sterling Shepard red zone stats

One big criticism of the Giants’ offensive personnel last season was the lack of a dependable red zone threat. The signings of Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph obviously change that narrative. The Giants now have two big-time red-zone threats in Golladay and Rudolph. But don’t sleep on Sterling Shepard as a viable option in scoring range.

Sterling Shepard was as reliable in the red zone as he possibly could have been in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus’s 2021 QB Annual, Daniel Jones’s top red-zone receiver by far was Sterling Shepard. Check out how purely efficient Shep was in the red zone in 2020:

  • 9/9 (100% completion), 3 Touchdowns, 56% First down conversion

Every time Daniel Jones targeted Sterling Shepard in the red zone last season, it resulted in a completion. Daniel Jones only threw 11 touchdowns in 2020. Three of those eleven scores (27%) went to Shepard in the red zone. All three of Sterling Shepard’s touchdown receptions in 2020 were scored in the red zone.

The Giants’ red zone offense will improve drastically in 2021. Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph give Daniel Jones two big-bodied receivers that excel in making contested catches. Sterling Shepard gives his quarterback reliable route running and high IQ that allows him to expose the soft spot in the defense and capitalize with points on the board. The New York Giants’ offense will get a lot more points on the board this season with this new and improved group of playmakers.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard and his versatility will be crucial for the offense in 2021

New York Giants, Austin Mack, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants revamped their receiving corps in 2021. Last season, the Giants’ group of wide receivers were a subpar group that failed to create separation or make contested catches. Only one wide receiver (Sterling Shepard) reached the league average in separation yards last season via Next Gen Stats.

In the 2021 offseason, the Giants recognized this deficiency and worked to fix the issue. They went out and got Daniel Jones a new alpha dog outside receiver in Kenny Golladay and also added a speedy human joystick underneath in Kadarius Toney. This receiver group is now loaded, giving Daniel Jones plenty of options to share the football with.

Darius Slayton might seem like the odd-man-out to some, but he actually might see the field a great amount. The reason for this being Sterling Shepard’s positional versatility. Over the past two seasons, Sterling Shepard has played on the outside despite starting his career off as a premier slot receiver. This versatility gives the Giants the ability to rotate their personnel and get Toney, Shepard, and Slayton all a bunch of reps this season.

Sterling Shepard inside and outside

Many fans typically think of Sterling Shepard as a slot receiver. However, since 2019, Shepard has played as an outside receiver. In 2019, Shep played 331 snaps out wide and 256 inside. Sterling continued playing predominantly outside in 2020. 356 of his offensive snaps came out wide with only 190 in the slot this past season. Shepard was typically playing the Z-receiver role in 2020 with Darius Slayton lining up as the team’s X-receiver. The loss of Odell Beckham Jr. and the gain of Golden Tate forced Shepard to kick out wide that season after playing from the slot in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Sterling Shepard has gotten comfortable playing outside these past two years. But his best seasons came from the slot when he was playing alongside Odell Beckham. From 2016-2018 (slot), Shepard averaged 63.3 receptions, 762 yards, and 4.7 touchdowns per year. From 2019-2020 (outside), Sterling averaged 61.5 receptions, 616 yards, and 3 touchdowns per year.

In 2021, Shepard will once again play the complementary role to a true number one receiver threat in Kenny Golladay. The addition of Kenny G is so crucial for the Giants’ offense because it makes Shepard and Slayton better as they are now secondary options facing secondary cornerbacks.

One of the reasons Sterling Shepard has had such a successful career thus far is his versatility. He can play inside, outside, and do both at a high level. When the Giants want Darius Slayton on the field, Sterling Shepard should play in the slot. When the team wants Kadarius Toney on the field in the slot, Sterling Shepard should replace Slayton out wide. Sterling Shepard is the second-best receiver on the New York Giants’ roster right now, so the team needs to keep him on the field as much as possible.

New York Giants: What will Sterling Shepard’s role in the offense be in 2021?

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants‘ offense has undergone significant changes this offseason. The Giants acquired a bunch of talented playmakers to inject into what was a lifeless offense. In 2020, the Giants averaged a putrid 17.5 points per game, second-to-last in the NFL. The only offensive unit worse than the Giants was the Jets.

That should change this year, though, as the Giants made some offensive big splashes in free agency in the draft. New York landed free agency’s top wide receiver on the market this year in Kenny Golladay. They also added one of the most reliable tight ends in the NFL in Kyle Rudolph. They then doubled down by selecting explosive slot receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Giants’ offensive weaponry has been overhauled with new, high-quality playmakers. But this influx of talent might give Daniel Jones too many mouths to feed, leaving the playmakers that were already on the roster hungry. Some players, like Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard, are expected to have their roles change significantly next season.

Giants fans are excited by the addition of Kadarius Toney. However, with Golladay entering the lineup as the team’s new X-receiver, and Toney on board as a new slot receiver, where does Sterling Shepard fall into place?

Where Sterling Shepard might fall into place

Sterling Shepard has been playing outside for two years now

Many fans typically think of Sterling Shepard as a slot receiver. However, since 2019, Shepard has played as an outside receiver. In 2019, Shep played 331 snaps out wide and 256 inside. The loss of Odell Beckham Jr. and the gain of Golden Tate forced Shepard to kick out wide that season after playing from the slot in 2016, 2017, and 2018. He started the season in the slot while Tate missed the first four games due to suspension, but once Golden Tate returned Shepard moved outside for the rest of the year.

Sterling continued playing predominantly outside in 2020. 356 of his offensive snaps came out wide with only 190 in the slot this past season. Shepard was typically playing the Z-receiver role in 2020 with Darius Slayton lining up as the team’s X-receiver. Slayton has a bit more size, physicality, and vertical prowess, making him a better fit on the line of scrimmage. Shepard’s excellent route running and experience in the slot made him a good fit for the outside Z-receiver position.

But frankly, Darius Slayton’s production at X-receiver was not good enough last year, which is why the Giants made it a point to go out and sign Kenny Golladay. Will this cause Slayton to move across the field to the Z-position If so, what happens to Sterling Shepard? Does he move back into the slot? Or is that position going to be earned by rookie Kadarius Toney?

Should Shep play inside or outside?

Sterling Shepard has been playing primarily outside for the past two years, but the seasons where Shepard played in the slot have been the best of his career. From 2016-2018 (slot), Shepard averaged 63.3 receptions, 762 yards, and 4.7 touchdowns per year. From 2019-2020 (outside), Sterling averaged 61.5 receptions, 616 yards, and 3 touchdowns per year.

Part of the reason why Shepard’s career-best seasons were in the slot is that he was playing alongside Odell Beckham. The Giants had a dominant WR1 in Beckham, something they’ve been missing since 2019. Now, with the arrival of Kenny Golladay, New York has its WR1 again. This should allow Sterling Shepard to thrive, returning to playing a complementary receiving role as he did with Odell.

Ultimately, Sterling Shepard should see snaps rotating inside and outside this season. He has the ability to play the Z-receiver or slot receiver roles with great efficiency. Darius Slayton should see a fair amount of snaps on the field, though his total is likely to decrease from last season. But the Giants also need to work Kadarius Toney into the lineup. This could open things up for the Giants to run a lot more four-receiver sets on offense. But it could also open things up for Sterling Shepard to play a more versatile role in the offense.

One of the reasons Sterling Shepard has had such a successful career is his versatility. He can play inside, outside, and do both at a high level. When the Giants want Darius Slayton on the field, Sterling Shepard should play in the slot. When the team wants Kadarius Toney on the field, Sterling Shepard should replace Slayton out wide. Sterling Shepard is the second-best receiver on the New York Giants’ roster right now, so the team needs to keep him on the field as much as possible.

New York Giants: Joe Judge assures Sterling Shepard’s not on the chopping block, but he could be

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

When the New York Giants drafted Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, some asked the question regarding Sterling Shepard and his future. Shepard has an OUT after the 2021 season, where the Giants can cut him and save about $6.5 million in salary cap. Otherwise, they will owe him $10.5 million for the 2022 season and $11.5 million for the 2023 season when he is 30 years old. Shepard has been a key contributor for the Giants over the past few seasons but has dealt with injuries that have kept them out for significant portions of time.

Sterling made it known that his goal for the 2021 campaign is to remain 100% healthy, as he missed four games last season and six the year before. He has only experienced two years of full health over five years in the NFL, so consistency remains one of his goals.

However, drafting Toney undoubtedly put a question mark on Shepard’s head, as they both play a similar position. Toney is traditionally a slot receiver who can also be utilized in gadget formations, specifically on end-arounds and jet sweeps. General manager Dave Gettleman referred to Toney as a receiver who runs like a running back, given his low center of gravity and talents in the open field.

Where does Sterling Shepard fit into the New York Giants’ plans?

Shepard, on the other hand, is also considered a slot receiver but has spent the last few seasons operating on the outside. For example, in 2020, he spent 356 total snaps on the outside and 190 in the slot, indicating a slight positional change where Toney shouldn’t impact his future with the squad.

Following the most recent draft, head coach Joe Judge made it a priority to call Shepard and let him know he was a part of the team’s future plans, and drafting Toney wouldn’t impact his status.

This is a bold move by Judge, who respects the veterans on the squad and values their opinion. Informing Shepard of this decision was honorable, but there is a possibility they move on from the five-year veteran sooner rather than later.

At the end of the day, the NFL is a business, and if Shepard is not producing at a high level, the Giants could see him as a trade piece, looking to move him at the deadline this upcoming year. If Toney is capable of holding it down in the slot and even moving outside on occasion, the Giants have plenty of wide receiver depth to supplement his loss. That doesn’t discount his influence when he’s on the field, as Shepard is one of the best route runners on the team and remains a productive weapon for Daniel Jones.

Given the amount of money they would save next season and the potential addition of draft capital for 2022, it could be an idea worth exploring, but Judge seems committed to Shepard for the time being, so unless anything drastic happens, I would expect him to be with the team for the remainder of his contract.

New York Giants: How Kadarius Toney pick influences Darius Slayton

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

The New York Giants are shaking things up at wide receiver this season. The team added both a new deep threat in Kenny Golladay and a promising draft pick in Kadarius Toney, and it’s certain that their on the field lineup at the position will look different compared to recent years.

For some of the existing players at receiver, that might be unsettling. After all, the newcomers are direct competition for the top performers from the last couple of seasons. However, head coach Joe Judge claims that the Giants aren’t planning to replace their current lineup of playmakers. At least, not yet.

Speaking to reporters after minicamp, Judge talked about the Giants drafting Kadarius Toney as well as how it will impact existing receiver Darius Slayton.

“I would say he’s a veteran player,” Judge said of Slayton. “He’s not in his first year, he’s got skin in the game right there. In terms of Darius, everyone is going to play to their strengths. Darius and Toney, will they be on the field at the same time, different packages, different positions at times, but I think everybody on the team affects the other by the way they work and how they produce.”

As Slayton and Toney are both coming into the season behind Golladay and likely Sterling Shepard on the depth chart, it looks like they’ll be in some kind of competition despite the insistence that they have different roles.

Judge also spoke about talking to Sterling Shepard, another player threatened by the addition of Toney. According to Judge, despite the headlines, the Giants also didn’t make the pick to replace Shepard.

“I thought it was necessary to talk to Shep specifically because when we drafted Toney the word in the press as he was reading those headlines was specifically he’s a slot receiver which, look, we are not bringing in someone to play one position. I thought it was relevant at the time to contact Shep out of respect for how he is with our program to communicate that with him,” Judge continued.

Clearing up misunderstandings like this is something that Judge claims to have done regularly – he also talked on the phone with Nate Solder after the Giants drafted Andrew Thomas. Though, the writing was still on the wall going forward and Thomas ended up taking over the starting role anyway as Solder opted out of the season.

At the end of the day, getting better isn’t an easy process for a team. For better players to come in, some players have to get displaced. That’s just the nature of the sport, and we have yet to see how that process is going to turn out for the Giants. It is, after all, inevitable for some players to lose their spot even if the coaches have the best of intentions.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard praises Daniel Jones in important area

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants team and organization seems to have faith in Daniel Jones going into 2021. Despite Jones regularly ending up on the other side of complaints from the fans, the Giants front office and staff have been nothing but committed to the third year QB in all their statements this offseason. Other members of the roster have also painted a popular picture of Jones, including the receivers he’ll play with this season.

Sterling Shepard is one of those satisfied receivers, and had some things to say to the New York Daily News about Jones’ leadership. Specifically, the trip to Arizona that Jones led earlier in the offseason was brought up. During this trip, Jones worked with other members of the offense to get some early practice in under Jason Garrett’s system.

“It just shows his leadership skills in getting everybody together and trying to get some of the timing down. That’s important for offense, especially receiver to QB. Good session. We had a great time out there getting to know each other and bonding with each other, as well. Just shows you [Jones’] maturity level in being able to set something like that up,” Shepard said.

Shepard also spoke during the same interview about the Giants adding Kadarius Toney, another receiver, with their first round pick.

He said that he’s not looking at Toney as new competition – and his explanation is pretty on point. Him and Toney aren’t the same player, with the rookie having a more physical and explosive game.

“No. We’re different players. We needed weapons. That’s just another weapon added to the team and to the offense, and he also brings some value in the return game.”

Daniel Jones has more weapons than ever this year

Many have called this the make or break season for Daniel Jones. His performance might determine whether the front office stays committed to him or starts looking at other options. However, Jones will have more weapons than ever to help him this season.

Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, the leading receivers from the last couple of seasons, are back – and they’re joined by the additions of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney. The Giants even added former Bengals pick John Ross, bringing another former first round name to see if he can recover his previous upside.

At the tight end spot, Jones will have two pass catching tight ends in Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph. And of course, Saquon Barkley is expected back for week one. The elusive running back has a reputation for being a weapon in the receiving game, not just on the ground.

This all, however, means there will also be less excuses for Jones. After all, if there’s more poor performances this year, the excuse of not having weapons likely won’t hold up.

For now, though, anyone in the organization will tell you that they have faith in Jones avoiding that pitfall and making a big step up in 2021.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard throws former coaches under bus for lack of conditioning

New York Giants, Austin Mack, Sterling Shepard

If you’ve been a New York Giants fan over the past few years, you’ve seen inadequacy and a lack of discipline behind the scenes. Before head coach Joe Judge took over in 2020, Pat Shurmur and Ben McAdoo simply couldn’t control their players and hold him accountable for the mistakes and transgressions they curated.

Ultimately, their inability to control the team and establish a strong culture played a significant part in their firings. However, Judge has completely revitalized this team with disciplinary rules and accountability ranging from the players to the coaches.

Veteran wide receiver sterling Shepard made it very clear that his former coaches lacked in specific areas, especially the conditioning category. In the past, coaches didn’t harp on stamina, or conditioning, which directly translates to games, particularly when playing aggressive football at all times.

Shepard made it clear that Judge has completely transformed that side of the team, ensuring that they are all in tiptop shape, which correlates to preparation for the regular season.

“He’s a tough coach, man. He’s a tough coach, but that’s what we needed. For the previous two coaches, we didn’t do any conditioning or anything like that. But I will say last year was my first year of really having a conditioning.”

The New York Giants needed a leader who held everyone accountable:

The Giants needed a tough coach to whip them into shape simply because they were running rampant before under McAdoo and Shurmur. It didn’t seem like they had any established guidelines for discipline, as they said and did whatever they wanted without any repercussions.

For goodness sake, a veteran wide receiver in victor Cruz went on a boat trip to Miami the weekend before a playoff game in Green Bay with his teammates, one of the coldest cities at that time of the year. They should’ve been training and focused on the game ahead, and it clearly impacted their performance, as Odell Beckham Jr. dropped multiple passes. Overall, this team already has a far more structured end fundamentally sound group of athletes and are focused on winning rather than playing games and wandering off into their own agenda.

What Judge has done with this team in such a short period of time has been tremendous, and hopefully, we continue to see progression during the 2021 season.

Giants’ Sterling Shepard sets goal for 2021 season and talks Daniel Jones

New York Giants receiver, Sterling Shepard.

The New York Giants are hoping to take a significant step forward on offense during the 2021 season. They’ve added a plethora of new talent to the unit, including Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, two elite playmakers who can change the course of a game in the blink of an eye.

However, one of their veteran receivers is hoping to make a similar impact, and he’s more than capable of doing so based on his past production. The 28-year-old Sterling Shepard is hoping to wind back the clock and replicate even his 2018 season, where he posted 872 yards and four touchdowns.

In 2018, Shepard played in all 16 games; his career has been littered with injuries that have derailed him at times and hurt his progression. He’s hoping to remain completely healthy for the 2021 season and show his team that he can be a liable option week in and week out.

“We actually had to write down our goals last week, my number one (goal) was to play all 17 (games),’ Shepard stated on the ‘Oklahoma Breakdown’ podcast. “I have had two seasons where, I think, I’ve missed 8 games…so, I want to get back to playing all 17 to be able to help my teammates out…when you can’t be out there with your brothers, and you see them grinding every day – it’s a bummer.”

Aside from his injury issues in the past, specifically, when it comes to concussions, he’s also dealing with a new quarterback who has yet to learn the NFL and its system. Shepard compared Daniel Jones to Eli Manning and how both processes the game based on either a lack of experience or two Super Bowl wins and 15 years of experience.

“Eli had everything down pat. He was able to tell me my route and then tell three other guys the routes they had to run. It’s a little different with a young guy who is trying to find his way ‘cause he has a lot on his plate…Daniel is a smart guy who wants to be great. He really puts in the work every day – I tip my hat to him, first one in the building, last one to leave and I really appreciate the way he works. He’s made some strides for sure.”

The New York Giants need their veteran WR to step up this season:

Having a quarterback like Manning who understands every single detail about any given play is huge for a receiver trying to learn a new system or needing a bit of help in the heat of battle.

At the end of the day, Jones is still developing and needs more time to refine his mental attributes but also his tangible traits. Sterling did have some nice things to say about Jones and his work ethic, particularly regarding his desire to be great and putting in the work.

If Shep can remain 100% healthy the entire year, he will help his team tremendously on offense, especially with more weapons in the return of Saquon Barkley. Hopefully, he can accomplish the goal he’s set for himself.