On Wednesday, New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard was carted off the practice field with an apparent leg injury. The severity of the injury was not known, but reporters on site claimed to see Shepard crying in anguish as he was removed from the field.
Things looked bleak. Shepard, a second-year wideout on the rise, was ready to build on his fantastic rookie season. Now, perhaps, his second season would be entirely lost.
Instead, Shepard reportedly has nothing more than a low ankle sprain. Though a sprain would still be painful and could still cost the young man a few weeks in recovery, this was almost the best news possible for New York. With more than a month to go before the regular season begins, Shepard is now likely to miss zero games, or one at the most.
And his absence from the team during training camp, though not ideal for his own personal development, could be a boon for the Giants’ roster at-large. There are a number of players who could benefit more from third-receiver reps than Shepard himself.
The wide receiver depth on New York is not great. After the big three pass catchers, there is a huge drop in talent to the next tier of guys. That next tier needs all the work it can get to prove someone is deserving of snaps come the regular season.
We still haven’t seen enough from the likes of Tavarres King or Roger Lewis. Dwayne Harris hasn’t been involved in the offense in a major way in more than a year. We haven’t seen anything yet from Darius Powe or Travis Rudolph. These are all guys who need experience in the offense, ideally with the first team.
They need to have Eli Manning throw them passes within the framework of the real offense. They need to stand in the huddle with the starters. Odell Beckham Jr. needs to run routes with them, shifting and affecting the defensive adjustments as would happen in a real game. With Shepard out of the picture for a few weeks, they will be given that chance.
The Shepard injury does one more positive thing for New York. It will allow the team to rotate Evan Engram into the slot during practice to see how he reacts. Engram is a tight end by trade but a receiver by output. Moving him around the formation is the best way to utilize his skill set and keep a defense off-balance. Gaining reps early in training camp at such a task could be vital to Engram’s overall rookie production.
It is obviously never ideal to lose a major player this early in the preseason process. However, the Giants dodged the worst outcome and settle for something that isn’t all bad. A lot of good can come from Shepard sitting out as far as the rest of the roster is concerned.