EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was looking for some help, any help, last season. His team's lack of weapons was never more evident than in Week 16 when Beckham was suspended. The offense was impotent that Sunday night in Minnesota.
Second on the team in catches and third in receiving yards last year was backup running back Shane Vereen. The inconsistent Rueben Randle, whom the Giants showed no interest in bringing back, was second on the team with 797 receiving yards. Randle signed this offseason with the rival Philadelphia Eagles.
The Giants had to find someone to provide support. With Victor Cruz an unknown after missing almost two full seasons, they used their second-round pick as a solution.
After a strong spring and inspiring start to training camp, Sterling Shepard, the 40th overall selection, has Beckham sold.
“I don’t want to spoil the surprise but it’s going to be ... he’s going to be a special player,” Beckham said on Wednesday after another strong practice from the rookie. “I kind of want to keep him on the down low for right now so that way he just jumps out the first couple games and has some big plays, touchdowns and all that.”
It became evident in the spring that Shepard was a player. His precise route running (which people inside the Giants organization rave about) and explosiveness earned him immediate first-team reps. His wide catch radius and surprising strength caught people's attention.
Shepard, 22, has carried it over to the summer, where he's become a fixture with the Giants starters, alongside Beckham and quarterback Eli Manning. Every day it seems Shepard has been making plays. And nobody seems surprised.
As one NFC executive told me in recent weeks, "He’s going to be a really good player."
Beckham agrees. He’s been impressed with the early returns.
“He’s developing, still learning but he’s starting to pick up his learning speed. I remember when I first came in how you’re kind of out there with your head on a swivel and things like that. And then as days go on you start to feel more comfortable. I think you’re seeing him start to feel more comfortable,” Beckham said. “And he’s going to be a big-time player.”
If Shepard has anywhere near the instant success Beckham had his rookie year, the Giants' offense should be lethal. The Giants finished eighth in total offense last season despite having just one dangerous, consistent receiving threat.
Beckham and Shepard may not just be the future, they also may be the present.
“Shepard, obviously, we're going to have him right there in the mix at receiver,” Manning said at the start of training camp.
The veteran quarterback and young receiver have been working on their relationship this summer. Shepard-and-Manning isn’t quite Beckham-and-Manning yet. Beckham and Manning are in year three of their progression. Shepard knows there remains a lot to be learned.
“That is the way it is supposed to be and there are things that go along with that that Odell has had to gain his trust and I am still trying to pick those things up,” Shepard said. “So that is what the quarterback-receiver relationship is supposed to be like.”
And it’s what Beckham expects it to be like for Shepard and Manning this year. He’s expecting big things from the Giants’ new weapon, who is also his much-needed new sidekick.