The son of the late former Oklahoma receiver (Derrick Shepard; 1983-86),
Sterling was, in some ways, raised by the Sooners. (This
link tells the tale of his family's ability to survive, while
this one provides
some insight on how coach Bob Stoops took him in following the father's
passing.) A four-star recruit out of high school, Shepard was immediately
productive in 2012 despite sharing the field at times with future
Saunders and Damien
Williams, finishing with 621 receiving yards (third-best total
by an Oklahoma freshman) and 45 catches (fourth). Shepard became
a regular starter the following season and, while he didn't experience
a significant spike in production in 2013, he started to establish
himself much more as a big-play threat as a junior, turning 51 receptions
into 970 yards in a little over half a season for a team that received
very shaky play at quarterback and relied heavily on impressive
then-freshman Samaje Perine, who would go on to break the FBS record
for most rushing yards in a single game, to carry the offense. Despite
being hampered by a groin injury that basically rendered him ineffective
offensively for the second half of the season, he was named a first-team
all-conference performer and finished as a semifinalist for the
Shepard avoided injury in 2015, serving as the unquestioned go-to
guy for transfer quarterback Baker Mayfield in the Sooners' version
of the Air Raid offense. The Oklahoma City native saved his best
for last, sparking the Sooners' run to the College Football Playoff
with a five-game scoring streak during which he tallied 47 catches
for 652 yards and six touchdowns, finishing with at least eight
receptions in four of those contests and topping 87 yards each
time. The Sooners' season came to an end against national runner-up
Clemson in the CFP semifinals, although Shepard's seven-catch,
87-yard contribution left him with a gaudy 86-1,288-11 line for
his senior campaign. That was enough to earn him All-Big 12 as
well as honorable mention All-American honors.
Best Scheme Fit: As a permanent
fixture in the slot in a quick-hitting passing game. His willingness
and ability as a blocker should keep him on the field on early
downs, while his ability to move the chains should make him a
favorite of the quarterback in short order.
Intelligent and silky smooth route-runner that lives over
the middle of the field.
Highly dependable (253 career catches versus eight drops)
and is nearly impossible to cover on the "whip route" - made
famous by Wes Welker during his time with the Patriots.
Displays ability to pluck the ball on the run and adjusts
well to off-target throws; transitions quickly after the catch
and shows above-average vision and change-of-direction skills
in the open field.
High-points the ball very well for a smaller receiver, "climbs
the ladder" with his 40-plus inch vertical jump to steal above
the outstretched hands of a bigger defender; a hands-catcher
who understands there is a time and a place to body-catch.
Finds the window easily in zone coverage and seems to possess
an innate feel for when his quarterback is in trouble, negotiating
the sideline beautifully as he works his way back to him.
A willing, capable and sometimes devastating blocker that
sticks on his defender and will peel back to blow up a linebacker
down the field.
Despite sub-4.5 track speed, does not show the ability to
kick it into another gear on deep routes, although he still
possesses the craftiness to make plays downfield.
Lack of size may limit his ability to contribute as an outside
receiver (did not face much physical coverage in college); worked
mostly out of the slot in 2015 and was rarely pressed.
Not as explosive out of breaks - nor as sudden or twitchy
- as most highly-ranked receivers his size.
Lacks ideal lower-body strength and will not break a lot of
Occasionally gets too cute and will sometimes take too many
steps to get off the line of scrimmage.
Sometimes, it becomes fairly obvious when a player is either the
son of a coach or former player. Such is the case with Shepard,
who is as much a thinking man's receiver as he is a skilled route-runner
that just knows how to get open and be where he is supposed to
be. A strong argument can be made that Shepard is similar to Tyler
Lockett in terms of play style, although the latter is more explosive
while the former is a more polished receiver. The 2015 Biletnikoff
Award semifinalist is a longshot to go in the first round and
lacks the flash of some of his fellow receiver classmates, but
that doesn't mean he can't end up as one of the two or three most
productive wideouts in this class if he is used correctly.
First and foremost, I believe Shepard's ceiling is as a second
receiver in the NFL - one that consistently breaks a defense's
heart on third down and also brings immediate value as a punt
returner. He will almost certainly add enough strength over the
first year or two of his pro career in order to enhance his ability
to break tackles on a more regular basis, which might be all he
needs to go from above-average to great after the catch. Shepard
is an easy projection in that he already does many of the things
now that he'll need to do as a pro. Further helping his case is
that those same skills are ones most college receivers have to
learn at the next level. With that said, he still possesses plenty
of upside with very little downside. Those kind of players tend
to be among the coaching staff's favorite players and carve out
long and productive careers in the NFL, which is exactly what
I expect to happen for Shepard.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.