Sterling Shepard, WR
School: Oklahoma | Conference: Big 12
College Experience: Senior | Age: 22?
Height / Weight: 5-10 / 193 lbs
Projected Draft Status: Third or Fourth Round
NFL Comparison: Randall Cobb
Sterling Shepard is the son of Derrick Shepard, who appeared in seven games as a returner for the Washington Redskins in 1987-88. The elder Shepard went on to play with the Dallas Cowboys (after a brief stretch with the New Orleans Saints), appearing in 25 games over a three-year stretch, primarily as a returner but also catching 18 passes. Derrick Shepard passed away when Sterling was young, and Sterling quickly became attached at the hip to Bob Stoops, the coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, where both father and son attended. Because of this, the younger Sterling and Stoops were the eventual recipients of the 2014 Disney Spirit Award.
As a player, the younger Shepard is undersized and likely to fall into a slot receiver role. But what he lacks in physical frame, he makes up for in gameplay. Often cited as one of the top route runners in the draft, Shepard has an undeniable ability to get open, and he began to piece things together as the 2015 season progressed. He racked up a ridiculous 54 catches for 739 yards and six touchdowns over his final six collegiate games, never managing fewer than 87 yards in that stretch. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he was responsible for 31 percent of Oklahoma's receiving yards over the past three seasons.
WR Mykel Jones (ESPN 300 No. 271) to @OU_Football.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 3, 2016
Sterling Shepard accounted for 31% of Sooners’ receiving yards over last three seasons.
- He seems to be a very likable kid, one who is grateful for the opportunity to play and will do anything to make it at the next level. That's often, but not always, the case with players lacking elite physical traits, but it's hard to watch the above video and not like the guy.
- While he has decent speed, he's certainly no DeSean Jackson. My guess is his 40 time will be somewhere around the 4.45 area, which is nothing to scoff at, but it's not burner speed. The thing about Shepard, however, is how he runs. Every step he takes seems to create some separation, and he does a great job of maximizing his ability. Even though he might not be faster than the defensive back, I still like his chances to beat him long, simply because of how smart a runner he is.
- Shepard has no problem going up the middle, and he can take a hit. This could get him in trouble in the NFL, because somebody like a Kam Chancellor might destroy him, but the willingness to put his body in danger to make a tough catch is admirable.
- He's an excellent blocker, which shouldn't surprise you if you've already read this far. Shepard does everything you want out of a receiver, he's just lacking some of the physical gifts of other receivers, which is why he is expected to fall to the third or fourth round. Check out No. 3 on this play:
Look at Sterling Shepard and Baker Mayfield's blocks on this long TD run: pic.twitter.com/ZhDpL536EK— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) February 9, 2016
- Did I mention he's an excellent route runner? No? Well, here, let some others have a crack at it:
Crisp route running and high pointing continue to be a theme for South WRs Jay Lee and Sterling Shepard. Standouts so far. #SeniorBowl— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 28, 2016
Look at this route by Sterling Shepard. That's how it's done. https://t.co/OxKUPwGP3I— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) February 1, 2016
- His size is unquestionably his biggest weakness. At 5-foot-10, 193 pounds, he is nearly identical to Randall Cobb (Pro-Football-Reference lists Cobb at 5-foot-10, 191 pounds), so it's not as though he's facing an insurmountable disadvantage. But more and more, teams are trending toward bigger receivers and defensive backs, so Shepard has an uphill climb to win teams over.
- There's not much else to not like about Shepard. One could argue his stats come too sporadically — he had three games with fewer than four catches in 2015 — but even when he can't muster many catches, he gets his yards (reached 50 yards in all but one game and 70 yards in all but three games).
How He Would Fit on the Redskins
I wasn't all that high on him entering this profile, but Shepard quickly won me over. He plays hard and smart, and he plays bigger than he is. He fits perfectly into a slot receiver role, and he seems like a player who will pick up an NFL playbook immediately. If the Redskins were to draft him, and retain Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, it's tough to see Shepard earning many reps behind that pair, Ryan Grant and Jamison Crowder. But Shepard also offers some ability in the return game — 19 punt returns for 148 yards last year — and he offers the rare ability to contribute at all levels of the field offensively. He can win a long route like Jackson, get open for a medium gain across the middle like Crowder or pick up a hard-fought short gain for a first down like Garcon. If any of those receivers get hurt, or Washington moves on from one of them, Shepard has a chance to be a contributor in his rookie season.