Sterling Shepard, son of the late Derrick Shepard, a former Sooners star, appears to be a prototypical slot receiver in the NFL, and one team that is always on the hunt for slot receivers is the New England Patriots. New England runs an offense where the receivers run "option routes", and a smart route runner like Shepard would fit right in. One problem New England may have is Shepard's rising stock, because New England isn't on the board until the 60th pick. Can they move up and draft the best available receiver for their offense?
Shepard might be the most NFL ready wide receiver in this class, with his excellent route-running ability, strong hands, and toughness in the middle of the field. Shepard isn't just some scrappy overachiever either, he is a top athlete. Standing at 5'10, 194 pounds, Shepard ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, ripped off 20 reps on the bench press, tops for wideouts, and he was also first in the vertical jump, hitting 41 inches. Yes, Shepard is considered a slot receiver, but he is going to be able to make some plays on the outside due to his awesome athletic ability.
Shepard put up some impressive numbers in his four years at Oklahoma, making 233 receptions for 3,482 yards, 26 touchdowns, and an average of 14.9 yards per catch, a strong average for a player who projects to be strictly a slot receiver. Shepard's senior season was his best; 86 catches, 1,288 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Shepard also had 19 punt returns for 148 yards, so he provides depth as a punt returner too.
One talent that NFL quarterbacks love is his ability to stay the same speed in his cuts and still smoothly catch the ball, ultimately picking up more speed as he separates from defenders. Shepard has excellent footwork and he's been known to setup defenders all game and then kill them with a double move that becomes a big scoring play. Shepard will need to get stronger in the NFL because cornerbacks are not going to give him a free release every time. Shepard's few flaws are easily fixable, especially with his work ethic, and assuming Shepard stays on the same course he's been on for the last four years, he will be an excellent pro player.
New England has a history with players similar to Shepard, and the most similar is former Louisville Cardinal and Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, a 2002 second round pick of the Patriots that surprised many at the time, but turned into Belichick's best wide receiver selection. Shepard not only has the same talents as Branch, he also has the same mental makeup- tough and determined to succeed. Like I mentioned earlier, it may be too late to draft Shepard at 60 because he'll probably be coming off the board about 15 picks sooner, but the Patriots may be able to parlay their multiple second round picks into one higher pick and get their guy in Shepard.
Statistics Provided by Sports-Reference.com/College Football
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