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Sterling Shepard's got YAC on his mind


Second-year WR Sterling Shepard is dedicating his offseason to improving his yards-after-catch:

After looking at his rookie film, Sterling Shepard wanted to YAC.

The second-round draft pick turned in one of the best debut seasons in Giants history at his position, but he saw plenty of opportunities to increase one key metric: yards after catch.

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"What am I looking to work on? Really just after the catch," he said. "I feel like I could have gotten a lot more YAC yardage last year. That is something that I looked at on film and I want to get better on."

In 2016, Shepard tied for 78th in the NFL with 256 yards after the catch. On 65 receptions, that averaged out to 3.9 yards after catch per completion, which ranked 98th. However, that didn't stop him from posting 683 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, second only to the Saints' Michael Thomas among rookies. Shepard's reception total also ranked third in franchise history for rookies, his touchdown catches were tied for third, and his receiving yards were fifth.

Of course, his teammate Odell Beckham Jr. broke all of those records in 2014. The three-time Pro Bowler is sixth in the league with 1,616 yards after catch (5.6 YAC per reception) since the Giants drafted him. Beckham's production kept the Giants in the top 10 in the YAC department, but the offense dropped from seventh to 18th in gross passing yards last season.

Below is a look at the Giants' production in the passing game since 2014, the year Ben McAdoo arrived as the offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach in 2016.

New York Giants201420152016Gross Pass Yards4,470 (7th)4,500 (7th)4,027 (18th)Yards After Catch2,090 (11th)2,116 (7th)2,031 (10th)Air Yards2,380 (7th)2,384 (8th)1,996 (26th)% YAC/Pass Yards46.8 (21st)47.0 (14th)50.4 (5th)

Now for a look at how the entire league fared in 2016:

2016 NFL SeasonAverage 32 ClubsAverage Playoff TeamsGross Pass Yards4,0284,226Yards After Catch1,9592,021Air Yards2,0692,206% YAC/Pass Yards48.647.8

For a host of reasons, the Giants' numbers dipped in 2016. They signed six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall to break the logjam. It's not every day that you hear a receiver with 12,000-plus yards and nearly 1,000 catches say he wants to be the second option. But Marshall is embracing that role to take some of the opponent's attention off Beckham. Drafting a tight end like Evan Engram to stretch the seam should also free things up.

In turn, Shepard will find more room after the catch, like he did at Oklahoma where his career long was 75 yards. As a rookie in the NFL, his longest was 32 yards.

"The thing is we just have to create matchups and him playing outside a little bit more could be in the cards," wide receivers coach Adam Henry said. "Right now he has been working hard and he has been out there and he looks really good right now."

Shepard added: "I look at it the same way as in high school. You make a big jump from your sophomore year, and then college the same way. Sophomore year, you get a lot more comfortable. I think it is just adjusting to the speed. I feel a lot more comfortable out here running routes. I know the play system now, so it helps me be a little more comfortable."

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