Scouting Profile: Sterling Shepard

Draft season is in full swing, and while quarterbacks are the hottest ticket in town, they must have someone to throw to. Rookie wide receivers don’t always make big impacts, but they’re important building blocks for any passing attack. Joseph Ferraiola breaks down former Oklahoma Sooner Sterling Shepard.

Sterling Shepard is one of the most well-rounded wide receivers in the draft. At 5’10” 194 pounds, he primarily plays from the slot, but has shown that he can play on the outside as well. Shepard caught 233 passes for 3,482 yards and 26 touchdowns in 50 games played while at Oklahoma. He also provides added value as a punt returner, although he is not an electrifying returner.

Shepard is the son of the late Derrick Shepard, who was a receiver for Oklahoma from 1983-1986 and played five seasons in the NFL. Shepard honored his father by wearing his #3 throughout his collegiate career.

Tale of the tape

40 Yard Dash Bench Reps Vertical Leap Broad Jump 3 Cone 20 Yard Shuttle
4.48 20 41.0 123.0 7.00 4.35

What He Can Do

Separation

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Oklahoma is facing a 3rd and 2 with Shepard lined up against press coverage at the top of the screen. The receiver is able to create separation by making the corner think he’ll run his route up the sideline. Instead, Shepard plants and breaks to the inside which gives QB Baker Mayfield more than enough space to complete the pass for the first down and more. Notice how Shepard beats the press here. By attacking the left, outside shoulder of the CB, he gets the cornerback to flip his hips toward the sideline. Shepard then cuts to the middle of the field, forcing the CB to execute an awkward baseball turn. This added movement creates all the separation Shepard needs to get his QB to pull the trigger.

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Later in the same game Shepard makes a play from the slot position lined up against a linebacker. This play is a great example of short-area quickness. The WR bursts forward on a vertical stem before cutting hard into an out route. Shepard is too quick for the linebacker and has four yards of separation when he catches the ball from backup quarterback Trevor Knight. Shepard blows past the LB and then makes another man miss in space for a nice gain. Quickness is an essential part of Shepard’s game as it allows him to create separation.

Settles in voids

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Shepard is in the slot at the top of the screen. He diagnoses that the defender covering him is in zone coverage and the wide receiver settles into a void while running a curl route. This creates a significant amount of space to make a play between him and the zone defenders. Mayfield works through his progressions and hits Shepard for a 1st down completion.

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Once again, Shepard is the slot at the top of the screen, and the Sooners face a 2nd and 6 in Baylor territory. Mayfield runs play action and the LB covering Shepard moves in an attempt to stop the run. Shepard is left uncovered and settles in space at the 1st down marker. Mayfield releases the pass and Shepard completes the catch for the easy first down as the safety closes in to make a shoestring tackle.

Hands (Catch Radius)

Sterling Shepard possesses soft hands and the ability to adjust to throws within and around his frame that are high, low, or behind him.

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On this play, Mayfield is pressured and forced to scramble to his right. On the run, Mayfield throws a pass to Shepard who extends and catches the pass near the sideline before it lands out of play. Shepard uses his large catch radius to adjust to a ball that is thrown out of bounds and ensure that he kept himself inbounds, which he did even by NFL standards.

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Shepard is lined up at the top of the screen on this play against off coverage. He runs a deep vertical route, but is able to fake the defender inside and spin him around to create leverage to work the sideline against the cornerback. With the ball in the air Shepard adjusts and works back to the ball to make the catch.

Toughness, Reliability

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Shepard shows the ability to make a tough catch as well as displaying reliability when a pass is thrown his way. On this play against Kansas, Shepard isn’t able to pick up the first down, but he is able to hold onto a catch while taking a hit. It takes concentration and great hands to be able to make a catch and take a hit that’s trying to jar the ball loose.

YAC, Balance and Body Control

Shepard can pick up yards after the catch using his elusive abilities and also can fight for yards breaking tackles. On this play he uses his elusiveness and balance for a touchdown during a critical juncture of the game for Oklahoma.

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Shepard is the slot receiver at the top of the screen. The defender falls down as Shepard runs an out route. Shepard is all alone and makes the catch near the sidelines and turns upfield. He runs about five yards before he shakes a defender, leaps, and leans into the endzone all with a little more than the hashmarks to work with.

Blocking

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One trait teams want to see in wide receivers is a willingness to block. Shepard is a high-effort player and is always looking to throw that additional block downfield. He displayed this against Kansas State after Mayfield broke a nice gain on 4th and 2.

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Shepard is the slot receiver on this play. Oklahoma successfully hands the ball off to Samaje Perine and the offensive line clears a path for him to get to the second level. At the next level Shepard blocks the slot defender and holds that block for Perine to run inside the redzone.

What He Can’t Do

Shepard’s weakness is that he won’t be a viable X receiver in the NFL. He lacks the  ideal size to play on the outside and will have trouble with larger, physical corners at the line of scrimmage. He relies on his quickness rather than his strength. While he can win contested catches at the point of attack it is against smaller corners and less athletic linebackers.

Projection

Overall, Shepard is the best slot receiver in the draft. Teams in need of a receiver to fill this role should consider drafting Shepard in the second round. He’s an excellent route runner featuring elite quickness that allows him to create separation. He will catch any ball thrown his way and can extend for balls beyond his frame. He also can stretch the field and beat corners deep if they make a false step when covering him. Shepard is a smart and savvy player who could be a steal for one team come draft day.

Follow @ITPylon on Twitter. Check out Joseph’s other work here including his scouting profiles of Michael Thomas and Laquon Treadwell.

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All video and images courtesy Draft Breakdown.

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