NY Giants’ Sterling Shepard’s best years are still ahead of him

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 23: Sterling Shepard #87 of the New York Giants runs drills at NY Giants Quest Diagnostics Training Center on August 23, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 23: Sterling Shepard #87 of the New York Giants runs drills at NY Giants Quest Diagnostics Training Center on August 23, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Four years in the National Football League and no thousand yard seasons, it’s fair to say the NY Giants expected more out of wide receiver, Sterling Shepard. Now the longest tenured player on the team, his best years are still ahead of him.

Sterling Shepard has seen it all as a member of the NY Giants since being drafted 40th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. In his five seasons in blue, he’s seen three different head coaches, one playoff season and an unfortunate abundance of losing.

The good news for Shepard and the Giants?

For the first time in his career, his team is finally headed in the right direction.

While the former Oklahoma Sooner has seen his NFL career marred with losing and nagging injuries, the Giants brass believed him worthy of a four year, $41 million dollar contract extension in 2019. Locked in until after the 2023 season, the next couple seasons are crucial for Shepard.

A multitude of factors have led to Shepard leaving the Giants wanting more from their homegrown receiver, but games like his performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17’s must-win game remind you of how great he can be. His crisp routes and big play ability all on display on the way to an 8 catch, 112 yard day – adding two touchdowns as well, one receiving and one rushing.

His big day wasn’t just a one-off, it was a sign of what’s to come for Shepard – his best years are still ahead of him.

As the Giants’ enter this off-season, it’s clear that another wide receiver is a need – probably their biggest. While usually that spells doom for receivers already on the team, Shepard would be the team’s biggest benefactor – aside from quarterback Daniel Jones, of course.

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The Giants haven’t had a true top receiver opposite Shepard since they traded star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns in 2019. Since then, he’s been paired up with average to no-good options – a player in Darius Slayton who has been inconsistent, an aging Golden Tate and a tight-end with a drop problem in Evan Engram – not exactly the players who will take the heat off the other side.

At least the Giants have plenty of options to fill their receiver need – free agency features a bevy of playmakers, while we may be looking at one of the best receiver draft classes ever. Either way, the field should open up for Shepard in a way he hasn’t seen since his rookie season.

Shepard already has the complete trust of his quarterback and offensive coordinator – a counterpart who can help take some of the defense’s attention away can help him become everything the Giants drafted him to be. He’s proven to be able to perform wherever he’s used, but he can be tremendous while working the slot – a place he’ll get more opportunities with the addition.

Sterling Shepard, NY Giants
Sterling Shepard #87 of the New York Giants (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

From rookie to the team’s elder-statesmen, Shepard showed superb leadership abilities throughout last season – something you don’t always see from the wide receiver position. While his team could’ve given up at many different points throughout their 1-8 start, he helped steer the ship and commended their ability to never give up in his press conference after their big victory against the Dallas Cowboys.

"“I’ve been on teams where you let things just go downhill from there, when you start the season off the way that we did. That’s the reason why I’m so proud of this team because we never had one guy hang their head and just throw in the towel,” said Shepard. “We’re going to fight and we’re going to try to win this next game.”"

It’s never been about the stats or the accolades for Shepard – he just wants to be part of a winning team. He achieved that his rookie season – scoring a career high eight touchdowns as the Giants achieved a playoff berth.

Statistics are nice, but they don’t tell the whole story in the National Football League – Shepard a prime example. Despite never having a thousand yard season or double-digit touchdowns, he’s proved he can perform at a high level.

The addition of another play-maker, along with another year to grow with Daniel Jones and Jason Garrett, could be exactly what Shepard needs to have a career year – and bring the Giants back to the playoffs in the process. As he’s shown already, the latter is more important to him.

With help on the way, the stats will pick-up for Shepard – but the only stat he cares about is wins. If he performs at the level he’s capable of, that stat will for sure improve.

He’s been a part of some memorable moments – his game-winning touchdown catch to beat the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football sticks out, but Shepard’s been part of one of the most forgettable eras in Giants’ history. As the team enters a new era, perhaps no player on the team deserves to be a part of the rebirth more.

Sterling Shepard’s best years still lay ahead of him – he’s a crucial part to what the team’s head coach, Joe Judge, is trying to build. As the Giants’ offense as a whole improves next season, Shepard can prove to everyone what he’s shown flashes of in the past – he’s a playmaker.

So far, the story of Sterling Shepard has been one of what if’s – what if he stayed healthy, what if he had a capable receiver opposite him. It’s been maddening to see the potential he has bottled up by bad offense – whether it be game-plans, quarterback play, offensive line play or a combination of it all.

Shepard has been through the dark times and he’s still emerged as somebody who wants to help fix the Giants rather than run from it. With the future looking brighter than ever, it looks like his patience is about to pay off.

Yes, Sterling Shepard’s story has been one of what if’s – but with his best years on the horizon, he’ll turn his story into vindication – rewarding the Giants’ faith in him, and his faith in himself.

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