Wide Receiver Sterling Shepard ready for big role in Giants Offense

Posted May 9, 2016

Giants Rookie WR Sterling Shepard proves he can compete at 5-10, just like teammate Victor Cruz:

Sterling Shepard is always being told he’s too short to play football.

When he met Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz this week, they said, “Join the club.”

Shepard, the 5-foot-10, 194-pound second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, has dealt with it his whole career while climbing the ranks from high school to college and now to the pros.

But height isn’t all it is hyped up to be.

Beckham, just an inch taller, broke the NFL record for, among others, most receiving yards through a player’s first two seasons. Cruz, the tallest of the trio at an even six feet, holds the franchise’s single-season receiving record and was the spark in the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI title run.

“They didn’t call me short,” Shepard said before Friday’s rookie minicamp practice. “We’re all kind of the same size. You have guys the same size as you and then you see them making plays every week, so why can’t you make plays every week?”

In his final year as a Sooner, Shepard was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the best receiver in college football, and finished his career with 233 receptions for 3,482 yards and 26 touchdowns.

When he was drafted last Friday, the comparisons to Cruz immediately sprang up.

“That name came up when our scout group talked about him,” general manager Jerry Reese said after the pick. “That’s one of the names that came up, a young Victor Cruz. Very similar in some ways, body type. The one thing about this kid is he’s 5-10 and some change, but his strike zone—what we call a strike zone—is bigger than that. He’s got a 41-inch vertical jump, he’s got big hands…he’s a tenacious slot receiver, run after the catch. Get the ball to him quick and he does some nice things after that catch as well. Yeah, Victor Cruz was one of the names that came up.”

“It’s an honor to be compared to Victor Cruz because he’s a guy I looked up to,” Shepard said. “Now I’ll be able to play with him. Yes, it was an honor to meet him yesterday.”
Meanwhile, no one knows Cruz better than offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.

After coaching the Giants’ wide receivers from 2004-09, he moved to quarterbacks in 2010, the year Cruz made the roster as an undrafted rookie out of UMass. And as the story goes, Sullivan played a part in Cruz adopting the salsa dance as his trademark touchdown celebration.

“There were certainly some flashes,” Sullivan said. “That is obviously a lofty comparison, and it is a great aspiration that I think any player would have coming in to be the type of player that Victor was there in the beginning of his career there. But there is a suddenness with which he executes his routes, how he separates from defenders, run after catch and that stuff, and he is going to be a great asset for us.”

If those comparisons weren’t enough, Shepard and Cruz both wore No. 3 in college. In fact, so did Beckham at LSU.

Shepard did it to honor his late father, Derrick, who also donned the number as a wide receiver at Oklahoma from 1983-86. But when he looked in his new locker at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, there hung a white practice jersey with a red No. 87, the number Derrick wore in the pros as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

Derrick Sheppard, undrafted in 1987, played five seasons in the NFL for Washington, New Orleans and Dallas. He died of a heart attack in 1999 at the age of 35.

“I didn’t actually get to pick it,” he said. “This is what they gave me and I guess it was a coincidence that it’s my dad’s number. I kind of wanted a number in the teens, but I guess I’ll just rock with it. It happened, and I guess I’ll just rock with the 87.

“As a little kid, being around the game so much, being around my dad, who later turned into a coach, and my uncles [were] playing, we breathe football in my family. It’s definitely my calling.”