EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Golden Tate has more NFL experience, but Sterling Shepard is the only wide receiver on the Giants' roster who has been with the team for more than one season.
And his designation as the team's longest-tenured wideout is going to last for a while. Shepard today signed a four-year contract extension that will keep him in a Giants uniform for another five years (he has one season remaining on this rookie deal).
"I'm just excited," Shepard said. "An opportunity to be in such a great place for another five years, it's a blessing. I'm looking forward to this opportunity. I'm not going to put so much weight on my shoulders. I'm just going to attack every day like I have been."
Shepard has played three seasons with the Giants since being selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He played every game as a rookie and last year (he missed five games in 2017), and has totaled 190 catches for 2,286 yards (12.0-yard avg.) and 14 touchdowns.
This year, the receivers room will have a new look. Three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham, Jr. was traded last month to Cleveland, leaving Shepard and Tate, the 10-year veteran who has played for Seattle, Detroit and Philadelphia, as Eli Manning's top wideout targets. They will be supported by Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Corey Coleman, Jawill Davis, Alonzo Russell, Brittan Golden and Russell Shepard (who has agreed to terms on a new contract and will sign on Monday. The Giants could also select one or more receivers in the draft in two weeks.
"We have no shortage of talent," Shepard said. "Those guys are ballers and they can get the job done. When they're put in that position, they're always going to execute. I have all the trust in those guys. I feel we're going to pick up right where we left off. The last five games were the best games we played in the season. We just have to fine-tune some little things. Once we do that, we'll be fine."
Shepard intends to contribute beyond just catching passes. He believes his status as the receiver with the longest stint in Giants blue places him in a natural leadership position,
"I'm ready," he said. "With Odell going down the last two seasons (with injuries), that time definitely helped me get a grasp of what being a leader is all about, and being that lead guy in the room. I think it prepared me for this moment. I was pretty vocal anyway. I'm a pretty vocal guy. That will be no problem.
"I'm no longer a young guy. I'm a vet now. This contract says a lot, so I'm going to handle it the right way."
Shepard was the only Giants wide receiver to play all 16 games last year. He finished third on the team with career-high totals of 66 catches for 872 yards and scored four touchdowns. His 58-yard reception in Atlanta was the team's longest of the season.
"I played decent," Shepard said. "I feel I have a lot more left to give. I feel I did a solid job of what they asked of me. Hopefully, we can take it up from here."
Shepard spent most of his first three seasons lining up in the slot, but he has also split wide. Tate, who, like Shepard, is 5-10, also plays inside and out.
"I got to be outside a lot more at the end of last season," Shepard said. "I can definitely see myself switching in and out. Same with Tate. He's a similar body type, same type of guy. It's going to be tough on defenses."
Shepard believes the same is true of the entire offense. With an improved line, Saquon Barkley as the feature back and the unit working a second year in Pat Shurmur's offense, he expects significant improvement.
"It was a new system for us early on last season," Shepard said. "Sometimes in a game, you're thinking about what you have to do instead of just going out and playing your game. Having a year under our belt is huge. Now we know what the coaches expect of us. I think with everybody getting their feet wet with the system, it's going to be a lot smoother."