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Sterling Shepard is actually ahead of Beckham's rookie pace

Posted Sep 23, 2016

WR Sterling Shepard has 11 receptions through the first two games: 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – His career has just begun, but Sterling Shepard has already ventured into territory that Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Amani Toomer, the Giants’ career receptions leader, never approached.

Shepard’s 11 receptions in the victories over Dallas and New Orleans are the most through the first two career games of any rookie in Giants history.

“I knew I was ready for this,” said Shepard, who will look to continue his hot start when the Giants host the Washington Redskins at 1 p.m. Sunday. “I feel like this is what I was born to do, so I am excited.”

So is everyone who has watched him. Shepard’s 11 receptions place him one behind team leader Beckham and tie him with Tennessee’s Tajae Sharpe for the highest total among NFL rookies. His 160 yards place him third among first-year players, behind Houston’s Will Fuller (211 yards, not including the 31 he added last night in New England), and Cleveland’s Corey Coleman (173).

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In training camp, Beckham predicted that Shepard would be the Giants’ secret weapon this season. He’s clearly a weapon, but the secret is out.

“I am not the kind of person that is going to say what I am going to do before I do it,” Shepard said. “But Odell was talking highly of me, which is great, but I just want to come out and do my part and help the team’s success.”

Shepard broke the two-game rookie record that was established 37 years ago and tied five years later. In 1979, fullback Ken Johnson caught nine passes in his first two games. He finished with 16 receptions in his only NFL season. In 1984, wide receiver Bobby Johnson also had nine catches in his first two games. Johnson ended the season with 48 receptions, tying tight end Zeke Mowatt for the team lead.

For the record, Beckham had six catches in his first two games in 2014, and Cruz had none in 2010, and Toomer had one in 1996.

More importantly, Beckham, Shepard and Cruz have combined for 31 of the Giants’ 51 receptions for 444 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s good to have weapons,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “Receivers have done a good job of making plays. Tight ends, running backs, everybody. We have a lot of guys that we can get involved in the passing game. We should have an answer depending on whatever the defense wants to do. It’s good when you have guys you can depend on. A lot of them were my first or second reads, so they’re getting open in a fast and timely fashion. That makes my job a lot easier.”

Shepard has done that by himself. The 40th selection in the NFL Draft this year, he has demonstrated an understanding of his assignments, an ability to get open, sure hands, and a toughness that belies a youthful appearance that brings to mind a middle school student.

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“He’s doing a good job, he’s getting open, he’s been good picking up the timing of the offense,” Manning said. “We haven’t tried to overload him on too many things. But he knows his assignments and runs his routes well.”

That is particularly evident on third down. Shepard is tied for second in the league with six receptions on third down, for 101 yards and his touchdown, a 9-yard reception in Dallas.

“I love third downs,” Shepard said. “It is a chance that we have to stay on the field, so I am definitely licking my chops every time it is third down; we need something big. That is the way it has been playing out. I have been beating my guy and getting open, trying to find little gaps in the zone, that is just the way it has been working out and hopefully that continues and like I said, I love third down.”

Two weeks into his career, Shepard has shown that down, distance and situations don’t matter, because he can flat-out play in the NFL.

“I knew it was going to be rough at first, just getting the playbook down and everything,” Shepard said. “But once I got that down, I was ready. I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”