When Ryan McDowell, our in-house Scouts department torchbearer, emailed the DLF staff about this Rookie Profile series, I quickly clicked over to the signup sheet to see if anyone had already claimed Sterling Shepard. No one had, and I was giddy.
You see, Shepard is my favorite player in this class. I don’t think he’s the best player in the class, or even the best receiver, but I absolutely love watching him play. I’ve always had a place in my heart for versatile athletes who play with a chip on their shoulder. Steve Smith, Julian Edelman and Tyrann Mathieu — those guys are in attack-mode all game, and they’re just flat-out football players who get after it. And they’re a little cocky, too.
Shepard fits that mold.
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But we’re not here to discuss how Shepard makes me weak in the knees; we’re here to discuss Shepard’s fantasy outlook. While I certainly like him as a player, I check my personal bias at the door, as much as humanly possible. When it comes to dynasty football, I care about production and talent, not whether I like a player.
Speaking of production, Shepard had plenty of that at Oklahoma. A four-year contributor for the Sooners, Shepard upped his game as a junior before putting together a superb senior campaign. In his junior season, Shepard made 51 catches for 970 yards and five scores, averaging a silly 19.0 yards per grab. As a senior, he hauled in 86 passes for 1,288 yards (15.0 YPC) and 11 touchdowns.
Impressively, Shepard, who is 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, put up these numbers while working with a different quarterback each season. The Sooners cycled through Landry Jones, Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Baker Mayfield in his four seasons.
A do-it-all weapon, Shepard added 17 carries and 109 rushing yards in his career, giving him 3,591 total yards from scrimmage and 27 touchdowns. Wait, that’s not all. He also averaged 7.4 yards per punt return on 30 chances, which isn’t great but is evidence of Oklahoma’s trust in Shepard’s play-making ability.
We covered Shepard as part of our 20/20 series, with Kyle Pollack providing 20 quick-hitting facts on the former Sooner.
The Rookie Profile Series is meant to dig a little deeper, and let’s do just that by using the some numbers complied from our friends at MockDraftable.com and PlayerProfiler.com, two invaluable sites with which you should be very familiar.
Here’s Shepard’s Mock Draftable Chart, which compares his measurables to other members of the 2016 class and gives us some players who tested similarly to Shepard throughout history:
Shepard’s bench press and vertical jump rate very well, but three of his size measurables — arm length, height and weight — leave a lot to be desired. None of this is surprising. Based off what I see on film (we’ll get to that shortly), there were a few surprises, which is what makes tools like this so useful. I thought Shepard would test better in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle as he displays good quickness and agility, especially after the catch. On the other hand, I didn’t expect him to run a 4.48 40-yard dash. On tape, I didn’t see that kind of top-end speed. His 40 time helps his stock, at least in my eyes, but a lack of agility doesn’t bode well for any wideout, particularly one who will spend some time in the slot.
While I compared Shepard to Smith earlier, it was based off their style and attitude with which they play, not their measurables. I loved seeing Smith listed as a player who is athletically similar, because it validates what I see on the field. The same goes for Golden Tate, another player who is a quality comparison for Shepard. After the catch is where I see the Tate traits (say that five times fast) the most. Pound for pound, Tate may the be the best receiver in the league after the catch. Shepard isn’t at that level, but he shows the same willingness to take on contact to fight for yards. I thought it was very interesting to see Corey Coleman listed. I would not have pegged them as similar athletes. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing for either player, just interesting.
Onto his Player Profiler page:
If you’re not familiar with any of these ratings, the link above provides a detailed explanation on each. Much like we just covered, Shepard is lacking in the agility department, and his height-adjusted speed score isn’t pretty. On the bright side, his burst score, which combines his vertical and broad jumps to measure “zero-inertia explosiveness” rates very well. His SPARQ rating puts him in the 86th percentile. So while his agility is, to put it bluntly, bad, he still checks out as a really good athlete with adequate speed and superb leaping ability.
I love the combine and athletic metrics. I could whittle away hours on both of those two sites, and they are an important part of player evaluation. For me, watching film and seeing what the player can do is equally as important, maybe more. It’s a tandem of checks and balances. A player with great film and lousy test numbers doesn’t excite me, and neither does a freak athlete who can’t produce on the field.
Let’s look at Shepard playing the game:
Film like this is much more useful, I think, than a highlight reel. Everyone looks good in a highlight reel, but gobs of snaps from a single game, even if Shepard isn’t getting the ball on all of them, gives us a better, more complete representation of the player. In the interest of entertainment, though, here’s a Shepard highlight reel. It’s fun.
Something those metrics can’t show for receivers is route running and how they catch the ball. Shepard is your favorite hands-catcher’s favorite hands-catcher. In all the film I’ve watched of Shepard — and it’s an embarrassingly large amount — I’ve only seen him let one pass get too far into his body on the catch. It was a back-shoulder throw against Kansas this past season, and back-shoulder passes are tough to hands-catch unless they are up above the chest, which this one wasn’t. Shepard made 233 receptions in college and was only credited with eight drops. The kid can catch a football, and he put on a clinic in the gauntlet drill at the combine.
As for route running, Shepard may be the best in the class. His physical prowess helps him against press-man coverage, an area in which most rookie receivers struggle. Mid-route, Shepard continually shakes free from defenders with sudden hip and head movements (just works a dude at 4:45 in above video). I was mistakenly crediting this to agility, but it falls under the route-running category as he’s setting defenders up with subtle body movements. He consistently runs sharp, crisp routes, snapping out of breaks with purpose.
Between Shepard and running back Kenneth Dixon I’m not sure who likes contact more in this draft class. I keep coming back to Smith, but just like the Ravens’ wideout, Shepard seems to enjoy getting popped on a big hit, bouncing right up flexing his muscles — or doing something which lets the defense know it’s going to take more than that to keep him down. He doesn’t, however, take unnecessary hits. By that I mean, he’ll take a blow to make a catch or gain extra yards, but if he’s surrounded and dead to rights, he’ll get down.
For being just 5-foot-10, Shepard does well in jump balls and contested-catch situations, which is where his stellar vertical, broad jump and hands come into play. It remains to be seen if he can carry that into the next level, where the cornerbacks are bigger, faster and stronger. He’s also a very willing blocker.
As you can see in the video, Oklahoma moved Shepard all over the place, but he took 68 percent of his snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. Thanks to his physical nature and leaping ability, I think Shepard can, in doses, play outside the numbers in the NFL. With that said, he’s best suited as a slot-type receiver. Playing there will likely cap his touchdown potential while raising his PPR floor. Some offensive coordinator is going to have a blast getting Shepard matched up on safeties and linebackers.
Shepard should come off the board in Round 2, and there are a whole host a receiver-needy teams this year. I’d say San Francisco, Carolina, Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Dallas, Houston and the New York Giants are the best bets to take a wideout in the first two rounds. New England probably belongs on that list, as well, but with Edelman in the fold, it’s unlikely they’ll draft Shepard. Of those options, ostensibly, Dallas, Cincinnati, New York, Carolina and Minnesota seem like ideal landing spots.
Thanks to his advanced route running and excellent hands, I think Shepard can come in and produce right away. This may sound over the top, but I see his eventual ceiling as a 100-catch, PPR machine. In rookie drafts, his ADP is WR6 and the eighth overall player, according to our 10 March mock drafts. That’s exactly where our rookie rankings have Shepard, too. I am a little more bullish on him, ranking him fourth overall in this class. He is an extremely safe pick, maybe the safest player in the class, in my opinion. Obviously, injuries can deter any career, but if Shepard is healthy, he will be a very productive player for a long time.
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Great info on Shepard. To DLF and it’s writers…”You are good. You are very very good.”
Thanks. We appreciate it!
Well said…but Austan…are you serious in ranking Higgins and Braxton Miller ahead of Boyd? I mean that has to be a mistake or a joke, right?
I’m sorry for letting this comment slip through the cracks. I just now saw it! My apologies. … As for Boyd, I think he is a subpar athlete who didn’t make great strides as he progressed at Pitt — although, to be fair, his QB situation was pretty poor after his freshman year. For me, there is a big drop after Doctson, Tread, Shepard, Coleman and Carroo. After those five, it’s a mess of blah in that next tier. I don’t see a ton separating the next 10 wideouts. I’m not high on Miller or Higgins, either. I’d rather take a flier on Mitchell, Cooper or Lewis in that range over Boyd. I certainly could be wrong, though. What Boyd did an a freshman was eye-opening; I just don’t see the athleticism I’d want in a first-round pick.