The New York Giants are in need of help at the wide receiver position. The team lacked a true number three receiver in 2019 and star Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Cleveland Browns. The free agent signing of Golden Tate should soften the blow of losing Beckham Jr., but the Giants need Sterling Shepard to step up in 2019.
The 26-year old receiver had a career year in 2018 as he finished with 66 receptions for 872 yards and four touchdowns. Shepard just signed a four year, $41 million contract extension, making him the first player in the 2016 draft class to sign a contract extension. The Oklahoma product is one of the league’s better slot receivers and would have been a high priority target for teams in free agency.
Shepard provides quarterback Eli Manning with a safety blanket over the middle of the field. He runs crisp routes and rarely drops the ball. Beckham Jr. was able to make the spectacular catch, but he also dropped catchable balls.
The Giants’ reason for keeping Shepard is quite obvious. They know that Shepard is a capable receiver and want to keep him with the organization. The Giants wanted to avoid another Landon Collins situation and believed it would be better to sign Shepard before the NFL Draft.
The signing also de-prioritizes the need to draft a receiver early in the draft. Both Tate and Shepard signed four-year contracts, while Cody Latimer missed most of 2018 with an injury. The Giants still need to draft a receiver in the upcoming draft, but they do not need to use one of their early picks on one.
Shepard has a great connection with Manning and should see an increase in targets in 2019. He had 107 targets, which was behind only Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley for most on the team. The 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year led the Giants in receptions with 91, but the majority of his catches were behind the line of scrimmage.
Beckham Jr. led the team with 124 targets, but he only played in 12 games. His departure leaves a void that has to be filled. Tate is the easiest option as he is the newcomer to the team, but Shepard will be the biggest beneficiary of Beckham’s absence.
Pat Shurmur loves Shepard’s run blocking and will try to provide him with more opportunities in the passing game. His receiving touchdowns should blow up in 2019 as Beckham Jr. was the Giants’ top receiving option in the red zone. Barkley scored the majority of his rushing touchdowns in the red zone and will probably have double-digit rushing touchdowns again in 2019.
Shepard’s career high in receiving touchdowns is eight, but he did that in his rookie season. In the last two seasons, Shepard has only six receiving touchdowns and should eclipse that mark in 2019. The Giants only had 23 passing touchdowns last season and two of them were by Beckham Jr.
Shepard provides the Giants with stability in the passing game and should have a career year in 2019 with Beckham Jr. on the Cleveland Browns.