Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, drafted in the second round by the New York Giants, is already drawing comparisons to famous pro receivers.
The Giants have two of the best receivers, Odell Beckham, Jr., and Victor Cruz. Shepard is being compared to Cruz.
“That name (Cruz) came up when our scout group talked about him,” Giants’general manager Jerry Reese said. “That’s one of the names that came up, a young Victor Cruz. Very similar in some ways, body type. The one thing about this kid is he’s 5-10 and some change, but his strike zone is bigger than that. He’s got a 41-inch vertical jump, he’s got big hands. He’s a tenacious slot receiver, runs after the catch. Get the ball to him quick and he does some nice things after the catch, as well. Yeah, Victor Cruz was one of the names that came up.
“The offense they run at Oklahoma, he runs all the routes. Unlike some of the college systems now where they run up the field and just turn around, this guy runs an NFL route tree.”
Shepard is excited about playing with such good receivers and catching passes from quarterback Eli Manning.
“I mean, (Beckham is) one of the guys I look at,” he said. “I look at his game every week, and I try to pattern my game after him. I was excited to be able to get drafted by the New York Giants and be able to play alongside him, as well as Victor Cruz – another guy that I look at, too. I’m excited.”
Shepard was the 40th pick of the draft.
“You go to certain schools, there’s young guys like, ‘Man, who is that guy,’” said Marc Ross, the Giants’ vice president, player evaluation. “He’s been that guy at Oklahoma, just because he’s always made plays, quick, athletic, competitive, savvy. He’s just been a playmaker for them since the time he stepped on campus.”
In four years at Oklahoma, the 5-10, 193-pound Shepard played in 50 games with 41 starts and caught 233 passes for 3,482 yards (14.9-yard avg.) and 26 touchdowns. He also averaged 7.3 yards on 30 punt returns.
In 2015, Sterling started all 13 of Oklahoma’s games and had career-high totals of 86 receptions for 1,288 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
“We got a great pick tonight,” coach Ben McAdoo said, “Sterling Shepard, tremendous young man, high character, plays the game the right way, plays the game the way it should be played, feisty player, can separate both inside and outside, strong hands, he’ll block you and we’re fortunate to have him, fortunate that he was on the board when he was.”
McAdoo said he can envision playing Beckham, Cruz and Shepard at the same time.
“Absolutely,” McAdoo said. “We play a lot of receivers, and we like to use a lot of different guys there. Dwayne Harris factors there as well. He had a nice year. Geremy Davis is coming along, Myles (White) has done some good things for us, and there are a lot of guys who are in the mix as far as that goes. The more the merrier, the better the competition.
“It gives you more flexibility. Obviously, Odell is a difference-maker, and Odell is a guy that is going to play inside and outside, he is going to be on the single side, he is going to be to the three receiver side, he is going to be in the backfield. He is going to be a little bit of everywhere, so the other positions have to have flexibility.”
Beckham, Cruz and Shepard are, respectively, 5-11, 6-foot and 5-10, an apparent height shortage. “You’d like to have all of them 6-5 that run 4.4 and all that,” Reese said, “but it’s just not the way it is all the time. I think that there’s a lot of tall receivers in the Hall of Fame that probably never even played in a Super Bowl, if you look at that history. We think he’s plenty tall enough, and we think he’s a terrific young receiver.
“He plays in the slot. He’s just crafty and knows how to get open in his routes. He has the quickness, the explosion in his route, the run after the catch, and the toughness to go over the middle, those kinds of things. Good bloodline, too; he’s been around football all his life.”
Shepard said his height has never been an issue on the field.
“Honestly, I play so big, I don’t limit myself to just the inside,” he said. “A lot of people think that that’s all I can do is play inside just because of my size. But I think guys like Odell and Victor have proven that that’s not the case. I’m definitely one of those guys that can be bounced around and move all around.”
Shepard became the 76th University of Oklahoma player selected in the NFL Draft under 17-year head coach Bob Stoops when he was picked by the New York Giants.
Shepard was a first-team All-American as a senior last season.
Shepard started 41 of his 50 career games, including all 37 his final three seasons. Shepard ranks second at OU in career receptions (233) and receiving yards (3,482). He also ranks third at OU in career touchdown catches (26) and career 100-yard receiving games (12). Shepard also shares the school single-game record with 15 receptions (vs. Kansas State in 2014).
“I was watching the draft with my family and friends in downtown OKC on top of a building, and Coach McAdoo hit me up and told me that they were going to grab me,” said Shepard not long after being selected. “It was an amazing feeling, one that I’ve been waiting to have since I was a little kid. It was definitely exciting.
“Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz are guys I’ve looked up to for a long time,” he said. “I can’t wait to be a part of the organization and call myself a Giant. I know they have die-hard fans there, similar to Oklahoma. I just can’t wait to get out there and go to work.”
Shepard is OU’s highest selection since offensive tackle Lane Johnson was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, and becomes the 25th Sooner under Stoops to go in the first or second round. He is also the fifth OU wide receiver in the last five years to be selected in the NFL Draft (Jalen Saunders in 2014, Kenny Stills and Justin Brown in 2013, and Ryan Broyles in 2012).
“I’m Sooner born and Sooner bred, and when I die I’ll be Sooner dead, for real. I love the Sooners and I appreciate everything all the fans have meant to me and my family,” Shepard said.
“Sterling is one of the most competitive players that we’ve had here,” said Stoops. “Everyone knows he excels in route running and has exceptional ball skills, but he also brings a fire to the field and the locker room that will be difficult to replace. He is a tireless worker and is fearless over the middle. With that attitude and his skill set, I think he’ll excel in the NFL.”
Shepard’s late father, Derrick, who was also a receiver at Oklahoma, played five years in the NFL (1987-91) with the Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. He won a Super Bowl title with Washington during the 1987 season.
Three other Sooners were drafted.
Charles Tapper, Dallas
Defensive end Charles Tapper went to the Dallas Cowboys with the third pick in the fourth round (101st overall), cornerback Zack Sanchez was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the second pick in the fifth round (141st overall), and outside linebacker Devante Bond was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the eighth pick in the sixth round (183rd overall).
Tapper started in 38 of 39 games over his final three seasons at OU and was a team captain in 2015. As a senior, he was named a first-team All-Big 12 selection. An honorable mention All-American last season, he had 26.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks and five forced fumbles over the last three years.
“I wasn’t really expecting to get drafted real early in the fourth round,” Tapper said. “I was just going to go with the flow and see how it played out. As the Cowboys were coming up, I was like, ‘Man, I hope the Cowboys pick me. That would be a great place for me playing that 5 technique, and they say they need a lot of help. Plus, they’ve got one of the best D-line pass rush coaches.’ I was sitting on the couch and the phone started ringing. I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ I saw the call was from Arlington, Texas, and when I answered it was Mr. Jerry Jones. Immediately there was just so much relief. Everything was just finally off my back. It was like the greatest feeling ever.
“I didn’t really have any idea that Dallas liked me that much. Indianapolis and Arizona had shown a lot of interest, so I thought I’d go to one of those teams. But when Dallas called I was just so happy. I feel like that’s just the best place for me, being able to play the 5 technique, be one-on-one with the tackle, be destructive, get up field. They treat every play like get off the ball and then just react. So I just get to be an athlete and show how athletic I am and get to use that 4.5 (speed).”
Stoops praised Tapper’s versatility.
“Charles is strong in the run game and as a pass rusher, and will be a versatile player at the next level,” Stoops said. “He sets the edge well and also has good speed for his size.”
Dallas likes his athleticism.
“Just really like him,” said Dallas coach Jason Garrett. “Athletically, we certainly feel like he is a defensive end candidate for us, and a right end candidate. Pass rush guy; he is an outstanding athlete. A lot of basketball in his background growing up, and we do think that the way that we play, the scheme that we run and the style of defense that we run, will feature some of the physical traits that he has. He plays the right way, he seems like an outstanding character guy. [Defensive Ends Coach] Leon Lett went up there and spent some time with him, and we really feel like he has a chance to be a good football player for us. Excited that he was there at the top of the fourth for us.”
Zac Sanchez, Carolina
Carolina thinks Sanchez “has a nose for the ball.” He recorded 15 interceptions in three seasons with Oklahoma, not to mention 28 pass breakups in 37 games. Scouts may note his small frame, but Sanchez is among the strongest corners in this year’s draft class. At the Scouting Combine, he posted 19 bench press reps, third most among defensive backs.
“There’s things obviously I still need to work on and fix,” Sanchez said. “But I was born with the ability to make plays and have better instincts than a lot of guys.”
Sanchez and Panthers offensive tackle Daryl Williams (Carolina’s fourth-round draft choice in 2015) played together at Oklahoma for three years.
“We have the same agent, and I’ve known Daryl since I stepped foot at (University of Oklahoma),” Sanchez said. “He’s always been a real cool guy and a really nice guy and a real good teammate. So, I know Daryl pretty well.”
Sanchez played both ways in high school, and he posted 45 receptions for 994 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior. The Texas native also picked off nine passes that year.
Carolina, which made it to the Super Bowl but lost to Denver, drafted three cornerbacks.
“Yes, I know that,” Sanchez said when asked if he was aware that the Panthers had previously picked corners in the second and third rounds. “I’m just ready to work my tail off and get on the field, regardless of where I’m drafted, whether I was the first or the last corner taken.”
Sanchez had bigger numbers and a bigger reputation than second-round pick James Bradberry of Samford and third-round choice Daryl Worley of West Virginia, picking off 15 passes over three seasons for national power Oklahoma.
“Carolina showed me the most interest of any team throughout this process,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know when it would be or how I would get there, but I just had the feeling that this would be the landing spot for me. I’m a competitor. I understand that they’re my teammates, but I’m here to compete with anybody. And the better they compete, the better I’ll be. That will make us all better in the long run.”
The Panthers have never before selected three players listed as cornerbacks in team history. Last season, Sanchez tied for fifth in the nation with seven interceptions (Worley was seventh with six). He picked off six passes the previous seasons.
“I was just blessed with natural instincts, with the ability to make plays and put myself in position to make plays,” said Sanchez, a 5-11, 179-pounder who had one year of college eligibility remaining.
“There are things that obviously I still need to work on and fix, but I was born with the ability to make plays and have better instincts than a lot of guys.
“It’s also about me knowing the game and then attacking than me just guessing every time and taking risks. I had a lot of good safeties behind me that allowed me to do that.”
Sanchez likes joining such a talented defense.
“This is a top-10 defense, and I want to do my best to be a part of it and be a guy who makes plays for it,” said Sanchez, who recalled a conversation he had with head coach Ron Rivera on his pre-draft visit to Carolina. “He told me he believed in me and thought I could be a good player in this league. Obviously he didn’t know what the draft would hold and if I’d end up in Carolina, but he wished me the best of luck.
“To hear that from Coach Rivera and now be a part of this team is real rewarding.”:
“Zack is a big-time playmaker,” said Stoops. “He just has great ability to be around the ball and go up and take it. He plays well in man and zone and has great recognition. He also has that competitive mindset that makes him a game changer.”
Carolina General Manager Dave Gettleman said Sanchez could play nickel back.
“Zack I believe played nickel as a redshirt freshman, so he’s played nickel, and he’s got nickel feet,” Gettleman said. “He’s quick, he’s not as big as the first two (corners we selected in this year’s draft). The first two guys, in our view, are outside players. They’ve got the length, they’ve got the size, they’ve got everything we’re looking for. Of the three guys, Zack would be the one who might potentially work (inside). He’ll work inside, I think that’s fair to say for sure. We’ve got to find out. The thing about Zack is, like I said, he’s really instinctive. He really knows the game. He just likes to bite on double moves, what can I tell ya? Sometimes I drink a milkshake. But Zack is the one. The other two guys are outside guys.”
Davonte Bond, Tampa Bay
Bond was limited as a senior due to injury and missed four games. The junior college transfer did start five contests in 2015 and registered 43 tackles, including 7 for loss and 3.0 sacks. He also started his final three games as a junior.
“I’m just definitely blessed and happy to be in the Tampa Bay organization,” Bond said. “I talked to them at the (NFL) Combine, and I just feel happy and feel blessed to be where I’m at. They were just one of the teams that showed a lot of interest in me during the process. I know I’m going to be an outside backer there. I plan on going there and trying to contribute on special teams early and go from there.
“I couldn’t stay home and just watch (it on TV) all day, so my family went to a secluded little bowling alley back home in Sacramento, bowled a little bit and just waited for the phone to ring. Tampa told me in the fifth that they were hoping I wouldn’t get picked, because they wanted me early in the sixth. Then the GM called me, told me to look at my family and tell them I’m a Buc.”
“Devante was a big part of our success last year,” said Stoops. “You saw his athleticism on display at the NFL Combine and our Pro Day. He’s also smart, versatile and a great pass rusher. He plays with great hands and sheds blockers well. He’s only going to continue to improve at the next level.”
Tampa Bay General Manager Jason Licht said Bond has a great opportunity.
“And then Devante (Bond), Sam linebacker from Oklahoma; heavy-handed and athletic,” Licht said. “Great kid.”
Several Sooners who were not drafted signed free-agent contracts with teams. Linebacker Eric Striker agreed to a contract with the Buffalo Bills. Linebacker Dominique Alexander signed with the Cleveland Browns, lineman Nila Kasitati with the Houston Texans, wideout Durron Neal with the Denver Broncos and linebacker Frank Shannon also with the Broncos.