On Tuesday, the New York Giants officially designated wide receiver Sterling Shepard to return from injured reserve, starting the 21-day clock the team has to decide whether or not to return him to the 53-man roster officially. Thursday afternoon saw Shepard activated and he is now expected to suit up in Week 7. The addition of Shepard could be a massive boost to the Giants offense as well as contending fantasy football teams needing an extra boost mid-season. Set to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday Night Football, should fantasy managers be sure to add the receiver before their game even if he might not suit up?
Update: This article was published earlier during the day. Since then, Mike Garafolo from NFL Network has reported that Shepard will in fact play Thursday night against the Eagles.
Giants WR Sterling Shepard could make his fantasy return on Thursday
Since suffering a turf toe injury midway through the Week 2 game against the Chicago Bears, Shepard has missed the Giants’ last four games. If the team had chosen not to add him to the 53-man roster, he would have had to remain on the IR for the rest of the season. This was always unlikely and as we found out Thursday, Shepard is a part of the Giants’ plans this season.
The Giants cut Damion Ratley following their Week 5 game, and C.J. Board won’t play after suffering a concussion on Sunday. Darius Slayton is playing but is dealing with a left foot injury of his own. The only fully healthy receivers on the active roster are Golden Tate and UDFA rookie Austin Mack, who played his first NFL game on Sunday.
Sterling Shepard, when on the field, makes a case for the fantasy WR1 in New York
Outside of Darius Slayton, the Giants pass-catchers have been pretty awful. Ratley and Board, the primary fill-ins, combined for 11 catches for 129 yards on 252 offensive snaps, but as we mentioned earlier, they won’t be on the field for the Giants in Week 7. Meanwhile, Tate has caught just 19 passes for 156 yards. Slayton is the one productive WR, having caught 25 of his 44 targets for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
While playing in 10 games, Shepard saw the largest target share, catching 57 of his 83 targets for 576 (10.1 avg) and scoring three touchdowns. However, if the Giants needed a big play, they looked for the rookie out of Auburn Darius Slayton. In 14 games, Slayton saw 84 targets, catching only 48 but for a massive 740 yards (15.42 avg) and eight touchdowns. Slayton had three games last year, where he had multiple receiving touchdowns.
The question was if the touchdowns were repeatable in 2020. With Shepard (83), Slayton (84), and Tate (85) all separated by three targets, someone had to step up and be the WR1, and Shepard, in most peoples’ eyes, was going to be that player.
The four-year veteran had never seen less than 83 targets in a season, including two years with 105 and 107 targets. Remember, this was with the likes of Ben McAdoo, Steve Spagnuolo, and Pat Shurmur as head coaches, none of which we would label offensive savants. Up until 2019, he was never asked to be a WR1, as they still had Odell Beckham Jr. on the team.
2019 was also the year that Sterling Shepard’s fantasy outlook took its highest leap, especially on a point per game basis, surpassing his average by more than 3.5 points, up to 14.2. Add in a second-year quarterback in Daniel Jones, new OC in Jason Garrett, 2020 could have been a massive year for Shepard, who is one of the most under-appreciated players in the NFL and in fantasy leagues. The only knock against him has been his inability to stay healthy, which has once again plagued his season.
Sterling Shepard’s fantasy outlook is great as a buy-low WR4
Trust. The biggest thing a wide receiver needs from his quarterback if they are ever going to see the ball coming his way. Shepard has that from Jones and is one reason he is looking forward to him coming back.
“I think his physical tools. He’s an extremely explosive guy, he’s good in and out of cuts,” Jones said. “I think he’s as good of a route runner as there is in the league with what he can do in getting open and then catching the ball. You can trust him to separate from guys. He’s a tough guy to cover one on one.”
In 2019, Sterling Shepard saw seven targets or more in eight of his 10 games and only had one week with fewer than 40 receiving yards. Once he is back, he is an option who you can play nearly every week, especially during bye weeks when he could be a solid fill-in for when you are missing a typical starter.
This offense is bad, and I am not going to sugar coat it, but that is not always a bad thing for fantasy. Teams playing from behind have to pass the ball, and it’s not like anyone is trying to run away with the NFC East. Shepard could step in and see at least eight targets from the start, making him a valuable piece. especially in PPR formats.
He is still available in 63.6% of fantasy leagues but we will see his ownership go up once people learn he is back on the roster. Even if he is splitting targets with the other receivers, it’s hard to pass up on a proven player when you have the opportunity to add some depth to your fantasy team, especially for those in contention for a championship this year where depth has never been more crucial than before.
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