Sterling Shepard became a leading man in 2017, and a married man in 2018.
In Week 5 last year against the Los Angeles Chargers, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris all went down with season-ending injuries. It was Shepard, in his second year out of Oklahoma, who became the seasoned vet in the receivers' room.
A nagging ankle injury forced Shepard to miss five games, but he still managed to lead the Giants with 731 receiving yards and finished second with 59 catches. He also improved his big-play production. Shepard had three receptions of 40+ yards; he had zero his rookie season.
As Shepard enters his third NFL season, a lot has changed for the 24-year-old on and off the field. Between the lines, Shepard is adjusting to the scheme of new head coach Pat Shurmur. Largely a slot receiver his first two seasons, Shepard saw plenty of reps this spring lined up on the outside.
Said Shepard, "You can call me an inside receiver, but in this offense you kind of have to know every single position, because you'll be stuck anywhere on the field, so I like that about it. It just kind of gives some diversity to the offense and keeps the defense guessing."
"You get a chance to run after the catch, especially in this offense. Coach Shurmur does a good job of just getting guys open. The schemes are crazy, and yeah, we're looking good."
Away from football, Shepard is officially off the market. In March, he married model Chanel Iman. The couple's first child is due August 19th.
"Right in the middle of training camp – you can tell we didn't plan it very well," Shepard said during OTAs. "Last year I didn't have a wife, and I didn't have a baby on the way. A lot has changed, but I think it's for the better. It settles me down a little bit."
Amidst the change, Shepard's role on offense remains a constant. He's a playmaker, and with a healthy Beckham, the duo forms a dynamic 1-2 punch for quarterback Eli Manning in the passing game. Manning sees a big year ahead for No. 87.
"Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard both had outstanding [spring] camps," Manning told Bob Papa and Charlie Weis last week on "The Opening Drive" on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "They're playmakers. Sterling [is] going into that third year, which I think is always a big year for receivers. They understand schemes and defenses and kind of little nuances of how to get open, whether it's man or zone or feeling out the zones."
Behind Shepard and Beckham, there's plenty of competition entering training camp. Roger Lewis Jr. is back after a strong second season. So, too, are returnees Kalif Raymond, Hunter Sharp, Marquis Bundy and Travis Rudolph. There's also a group of newcomers, led by veterans Cody Latimer and Russell Shepard, plus a group of undrafted rookie free agents.
"I feel like we have a lot of guys that are out with something to prove, and that's always a good thing for the team," Shepard said. "The camaraderie between guys has been great and everyone is learning the scheme, so we're starting to move a little bit faster."
With the additions of Saquon Barkley and Jonathan Stewart, plus the return of Beckham, the Giants offense packs a punch – on paper. Shepard says having the pieces of the puzzle is nice, but it's about coming together and staying unselfish.
"As long as we're winning games, I don't really care how it comes together," Shepard said. "I just don't want to have another season like last year, so whoever gets the ball, I know that you can trust in them to make big plays. I'm happy about that."