Sterling Shepard is one of five players from around the NFL Alex Kay of Bleacher Report believes might request a trade in the near future. Kay named the Patriots and Houston Texans as teams who “could come calling if Shepard asks to be moved.”
The description of the Pats and Texans as “both in desperate need of competent pass-catchers” is apt. So is Shepard’s fit in Belichick’s offense, a system long tethered to small and swift slot-style wideouts.
Yet, there’s more than a note of caution about this scenario. Namely, Shepard’s lengthy injury record, coupled with the 30-year-old sounding determined to prove he’s still worth something to the Giants.
Oft-Injured Veteran a Scheme Fit for Patriots
Shepard ticks every box for every familiar trope of the Patriots’ passing game. He’s a 5-foot-10, 201-pounder who can thrive from the slot and win on option routes.
Belichick has been emphasizing those things since he took over in 2000. Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman all fit the blueprint perfectly.
Shepard would do the same, provided he could stay healthy. The 30-year-old has missed 39 games with various injuries, including hamstring, quad, Achilles and ACL problems.
He made his return from the torn ACL that ended his 2022 season in Week 3 by catching a pass during the Giants’ 21-19 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers on Friday, August 18.
Before then, Shepard had been showing he’s lost none of his quick-twitch movement out of his breaks with coverage-beating routes like this one from Giants practice.
A receiver who moves like this can quickly become an invaluable outlet for any quarterback. Pats’ signal-caller Mac Jones would surely appreciate Shepard’s varied moves to get open.
Jones and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien would also value Shepard’s efficiency from the slot. He proved a prolific scoring threat from the inside as a rookie in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.
Shepard would make a quick transition in New England’s system, but he’d face intense competition for slot snaps. Something the seven-year pro is also up against with the Giants.
Competition Just as Tough in New England for Giants’ Veteran
Emerging from a crowded list of slot receivers on the Giants’ roster won’t be easy for Shepard. Not when he’s competing with free-agent arrivals Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder and Parris Campbell, along with second-year pass-catcher Wan’Dale Robinson.
Shepard’s looking “explosive” and vowing to “earn” his job, but he could be the odd man out when the Giants start making cuts. That’s not to say he’d have an easier time sticking with the Patriots.
There are no shortage of slot specialists on the Pats’ depth chart. It’s a group led by Super Bowl-winning veteran JuJu Smith-Schuster.
He’s the proven, tough target over the middle who played 282 snaps from the slot for the Kansas City Chiefs last season, per Player Profiler. Smith-Schuster is at his best between the numbers, but the 26-year-old is far from the only slot weapon at Jones’ disposal.
The most intriguing slot receiver in this offense might be sixth-round pick Demario Douglas. He’s already been a standout at training camp, and Douglas fits the mold of a receiver who can turn short passes into long, chain-moving gains consistently.
Smith-Schuster and Douglas are credible, go-to options for Jones, but there are question marks about other receivers. Veterans DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne are under pressure to produce, while second-year pro Tyquan Thornton has been quiet this offseason.
Whether there are enough doubts about those around Douglas and Smith-Schuster to merit trading for Shepard is another matter. The Giants wouldn’t get much for an oft-injured receiver on a one-year contract, but the Patriots might deem a sixth or seventh-round draft pick worthy of a flier.