Much attention has been paid to the weaknesses throughout the Buffalo Bills’ defense during the 2015 NFL season, but heading into the 2016 offseason the team will need to make upgrades along the offense as well. Under Greg Roman, wide receiver Sammy Watkins has emerged as a game-changer at the wide receiver position, but injuries suffered to Percy Harvin, Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods have exposed the lack of depth and sure talent the Bills have on their depth chart. Today, we’ll take a look t Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
In four years with the Sooners, Sterling Shepard established himself as one of the most talented wide receivers in the nation, recording 233 catches for 3,482 yards and 26 touchdowns in 49 games. The shifty and explosive slot receiver was named First-Team All-Big 12 in each of the last two years and finished his senior campaign with 86 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 scores.
Sterling Shepard Size/ Physical Attributes
At the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, Sterling Shepard measured in at 5’10” and 194 pounds. With his smaller stature, Shepard may be limited to the slot, where he ran 67.7% of his 212 routes in 2015. Sterling Shepard is more quick and shifty than he is fast, running a 4.48 second 40-yard dash, a 7.0 second three-cone and a 4.35 20-yard shuttle.
Sterling Shepard Route Running
Sterling Shepard is arguably the best route runner among the 2016 wide receiver class, consistently creating separation from defenders with quick footwork, jab steps and subtle head fakes to fake out cornerbacks. He’s explosive in and out of his breaks and doesn’t round off his routes, so he often is able to find himself in space on most in or out-breaking routes as opposing cornerbacks can’t match his change-of-direction ability.
According to Matt Harmon’s “Reception Perception” project that tracks and charts wide receivers, Sterling Shepard found himself “in space” or open on 29 of his routes, the second-highest among the 21 wideouts charted.
Shepard has experience running a variety of routes, which will ease his transition to the NFL as most receivers entering the league are coming from spread offenses that rely on go’s, slants, screens and posts. Sterling Shepard was effective on slants, posts, corners, out routes and comebacks. He ran a below-average number of go routes, but had a 67.7% success rate, the third-highest of the charted wideouts, and 12.1 percent higher than the average.
Shepard does a good job hiding his intentions until the last moment, as you can see in the following play against Kansas State. He gets vertical and eats up the cushion between the cornerback and himself, before cutting inside across his face. He makes the catch and fights his way into the endzone for a score.
His quick footwork is what makes him so effective on the slant route, as he explodes out of his break and puts cornerbacks in a trail position.
Sterling Shepard runs a fantastic corner route, getting vertical and smoothly breaking to the sideline where he’d typically find himself wide open.
Sterling Shepard Ball Skills/Body Control
For a smaller receiver, Sterling Shepard does a great job making tough catches in contested situations, as well as adjusting his body to track, locate and high-point the ball in the air. He’s got great hands, dropping just three passes of 120 targets last year and a total of eight in his career.
Here against Kansas, Shepard gets the cornerback turned around with a quick fake inside before bursting downfield. The cornerback is in good position, trapping Shepard along the sideline. Shepard sees that the ball is underthrown, but waits for the last possible moment to jump and turn his body to make the catch, while shielding the cornerback from making a play.
On another deep vertical route, Sterling Shepard shows off his ability to track the ball in the air while running full speed and catch the ball over his shoulder.
According to RealFootballNetwork, Sterling Shepard was targeted seven times in the red zone last season, catching five passes that all resulted in touchdowns. He posted a 41” vertical leap at the Scouting Combine, so he has the ability to elevate and make himself a viable weapon in the redzone. Against Kansas, he shows off that vertical, high-pointing a fade pass for a touchdown.
Sterling Shepard After the Catch/ Blocking
Sterling Shepard is a threat when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s not content just making a catch and going down, as he’ll regularly turn up-field to gain additional yardage. Shepard averaged 5.1 yards-after-catch per reception. He’s elusive and can make defenders miss when he’s in space and has great field vision that lets him navigate his way through traffic.
Here, he takes a screen pass against Kansas and turns it into a 20+ yard gain, weaving through defenders, breaking a tackle and juking his way across the field.
Sterling Shepard is a willing blocker, an aspect of the wide receiver positon that you love to see. Against Kansas State he delivers a key block on a would-be tackler on a screen play that allows his teammate to score.
In the same game, Oklahoma’s quarterback is forced to scramble up the middle. As he’s running downfield, Sterling Shepard comes back and lays the wood on a defender that’s in position to make the tackle, allowing the quarterback to pick up an additional 15 yards.
Potential fit With Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills made it known that they want to acquire a wide receiver with speed to complement Sammy Watkins and draw coverage away from him. Sterling Shepard is an elite route runner that would be an ideal weapon in the slot, where he could work the underneath-to-intermediate areas of the field. He’s also a vertical threat that opposing defenses have to account for, as he averaged 23.4 yards-per-target on passes that traveled 20+ yards downfield, according to ProFootballFocus.
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