Dynasty Draft Profile: Sterling Shepard
March 29, 2016 | Rich Hribar
|22.9||70||194||30 3/8||9 3/4|
*MSYD = % of Team Receiving Yardage
As a true freshman, Sterling Shepard was an immediate contributor on an Oklahoma offense that 5th in the Nation in passing in what was Landry Jones’ final season. Just as his collegiate career was starting to look up, the bottom fell out on the Sooner passing game with Jones’ departure as they ranked 93rd in the country in passing in 2013 (199.1 yards per game) and 85th in 2014 at 203.5 yards per game.
Shepard’s overall production profile gets dinged a bit from the metric crowd for being an older prospect and having his best season as a seasoned collegiate player, but his 2014 season was highly efficient when his offensive environment was accounted for.
Despite being collectively inept through the air as a team, Shepard was able to cobble solid production in the passing game while being the main contributor and was light years beyond more effective than his surrounding talent. In 2014, a target to Shepard was worth 5.9 more yards to any other Oklahoma player, a mark that ranked second in the country for all receivers with at least 50 targets on the season.
Oklahoma then canned their long standing offensive approach and brought in Lincoln Riley from Texas Tech to run the offense while turning over quarterbacking duties to 2014 transfer Baker Mayfield, who also came from the Red Raiders. The Sooner passing game blossomed, jumping up to 17th in passing (308.2 yards per game) and Shepard delivered a season where he tallied not only his best counting stats, but also was one the most highly efficient receivers in the country that saw high volume. Here’s where Shepard ranked of the 62 players to see triple digit targets in 2015.
*ReYD/TGT+ = Yards per target to a player versus a target to anyone else on the team
Despite having a solid resume overall, Shepard’s all-encompassing collegiate production that ranges from being a young contributor on an elite passing game, to being a modest one in a dreadful situation and then closing out as a highly productive player while seasoned in another high end passing attack suggests that Shepard is more reliant on his surrounding climate truly elevating his counting stats than vice versa.
Shepard proved he was a capable athlete at the combine, but even when looking at the objective comparisons for receivers that enter the NFL with similar physical and final season profiles, we get more of the same in suggestion that Shepard’s true outlook is more of being a component in a functioning passing game at the next level over being the driver.
Of his group of cohorts, only Wright was regarded as requiring significant investment and he’s by far the most decorated of this group in terms of NFL success. Wright has already turned in a top-24 scoring season in which he secured 94 passes in 2013, but nearly all of his NFL success has been tethered to volume, something that isn’t uncommon among players who primarily play on the interior on the next level.
That’s where Shepard projects to do the crux of his damage as well. Not only from an objective profile perspective, but also from what we’ve already seen transpire in terms of him stacking his production in college. Per Pro Football Focus, Shepard received 82.5 percent of his targets from the slot in 2015, the highest rate of any prospect in this class.
You’ll also notice some overlap in objective comparisons that popped up for Corey Coleman. Coleman is nearly unanimously regarded as one of the best athletes in this class, but Shepard is right near where Coleman is measurably with the same frame. Those measurable similarities are likely more sobering on Coleman’s end than elevating for Shepard’s as it lends itself to the potential that Coleman has the soul of a boundary receiver in the shell of an interior one.
Being primarily an interior option is not a major knock on Shepard as the NFL continues to transition to a more open passing era, but for what Shepard does best as player equaling fantasy production is generally going to be tied into his environment. If that environment lines up for him, he’s the best receiver in this class bar none at playing the small receiver game. The small game is where Shepard shines the brightest and after the catch, he’s a handful for defenders due to his start/stop and change of direction ability.
Shepard is largely regarded as the best immediate route runner available in this class. While playing the slot inherently generates a free release for the receiver, his footwork at the line of scrimmage is so sensational that he can also create his own separation at the line of scrimmage wherever he lines up in the formation and then recreate separation in his breaks in route when needed.
As you can tell from above, Shepard also possesses some rock solid ball skills for a “smaller” receiver. He was credited with only eight career drops on 334 targets. That natural ability allows him to win in the “big receiver” game as well, something that is versatile in creating advantageous matchups for an offense. When matched up on the inside, he can beat equally as quick defenders in contested catch situations and on the boundaries and he has no fear when working zones or taking on contact from bigger defenders.
I’m supremely confident in believing that Shepard is going to be a good NFL receiver. In fact, in a class that I feel has more step of faith options at the top than there have been of previous years, he may even be the receiver I feel has safest floor of the entire class. For what he does for an offense, he’s easily in a tier of his own ahead of the Tyler Boyd, Rashard Higgins and Tajae Sharpe tier that follows him in that regard.
But there’s also the rub here in play that while I believe that he will be successful in reality and aesthetically does everything I want him to do, what he does best as receiver is something that inherently relies on a specific climate in generating significant fantasy points, which is why we’re here. That aspect alone is what is keeping him in the middle of my top-10 at the position than at the top. If he lands in spot where an elixir of high team passing volume and those targets are immediately available, I’ll reconsider that stance, but as of now his 1.08 price tag overall feels just about right.