Darren Waller is earning rave reviews and Cole Beasley is making plays in preseason, but one incumbent pass-catcher for the New York Giants is working hard to ensure he’s not forgotten.
Sterling Shepard thrived at practice on Monday, August 21, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. He noted how the veteran wide receiver “caught four passes in practice. The second-team cornerbacks couldn’t stay with him. Shepard has looked really good and explosive of late.”
It may only be practice against second-string players, but Shepard is timing his positive showings perfectly. The 30-year-old risks finding himself overlooked after the Giants traded for Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller and signed wideouts Beasley, Parris Campbell and Jamison Crowder in free agency.
Despite the new faces, the Giants still went to the trouble of bringing Shepard back, even after he lost the best part of yet another season to injury. If he can finally stay healthy, the second-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft still has the attributes to be a natural fit in a Giants’ offense tailored to slight and swift, slot-style receivers.
Sterling Shepard Faces Tough Challenge to Stick Around
To say Shepard faces a long haul to prove he merits keeping his roster spot would be a major understatement. Aside from Waller, Beasley, Campbell and Crowder, the Giants also used a third-round pick this year to draft natural deep threat Jalin Hyatt. Add in bringing back Isaiah Hodgins and Darius Slayton, and general manager Joe Schoen did all he could to ensure his team is stacked at receiver.
He’s missed 39 games during his career, so it was understandable for the Giants to have enough doubts to void his contract back in February. Schoen subsequently opted to re-sign Shepard in March, but the depth chart has only become more crowded since.
Beasley may not play himself into the WR1 role for the Giants, but the 34-year-old should be an effective complement to Waller. The latter is already being used as though he’s the go-to target for quarterback Daniel Jones.
Waller split out as a wide receiver to make a key grab, highlighted by former NFL QB Dan Orlovsky, against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 of the preaseason. The alignment “is what you do with your No. 1 receiver,” according to Raanan.
If Waller already merits this lofty status, then the rest of the Giants’ receivers are going to be in a battle for playing time and targets. Shepard at least sounds determined to remain among the fray.
Oft-Injured Wide Receiver Still Up for the Fight
Shepard caught a pass against the Panthers, his first action since the ACL injury. He also played 17 snaps, “two more than head coach Brian Daboll intended for him,” per Dan Benton of Giants Wire.
Playing more than expected is the best way for Shepard to follow up on his desire to “earn my job,” per Newsday’s Kim Jones. Fortunately, Shepard can win his fight for playing time thanks to his experience and versatility.
Like Beasley, Crowder and second-year pro Wan’Dale Robinson, who is also coming back from a torn ACL, Shepard can work the slot. Yet, he’s also adept at stretching the field from the outside, like for this 65-yard touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 last season, highlighted by Empire Sports Media’s Alex Wilson.
Shepard can still offer a lot in Daboll’s system, so it’s worth rolling the dice again on him staying healthy enough to contribute.