Forget about Sterling Shepard.
Seriously. That’s what he wants.
Focus on Odell Beckham Jr., the rock star receiver and one of the NFL’s most dynamic playmakers. Train the cameras on Brandon Marshall, the established veteran with close to Hall of Fame numbers who has come to the Giants in a last-ditch effort to reach the playoffs for the first time in his career. Fawn over Evan Engram, the rookie first-round pick who is expected to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses at tight end.
And ignore the player who was second on the team in passing targets last year, whose 65 catches for 683 yards and eight touchdowns were second among all NFL rookies in 2016.
“I don’t mind it,” Shepard said Thursday of his Mr. Cellophane persona. “That’s kind of a good thing being under the radar. Don’t pay attention to me on game day. I’d love it.”
While the other Giants receivers have made headlines with one-handed grabs, quests to be the highest-paid player in the game and blunt talk of Super Bowls, Shepard had a very quiet summer. The biggest blip he created occurred when he rolled his ankle in a practice early in training camp. Once the injury was deemed mild, the story basically went away, too.
If Shepard were hobbling around in a boot, he’d be drawing more attention to himself than he currently is practicing with the team.
“As far as being noticed, I don’t really care about any of that stuff,” he said. “I’m just here to do my job and have a successful season.”
His job, as he sees it, is to help those marquee names do theirs.
“That’s my job, to free them up,” he said. “If I’m catching balls over the middle, and Evan is as well, then they have to pay attention to that. Then they’ll have to, I guess you’d say, pick your poison. [Beckham] demands a lot of attention and Brandon does as well. If we do everything we’re supposed to do, then we should have no problem moving the ball and being successful.”
Shepard may be playing in shadows, dwarfed by the oversized personalities and production the Giants have as their two starting receivers. He may even see a decrease in his playing time and opportunities this season, as Engram is sure to take snaps away from him. The Giants want to be more diverse in terms of personnel, which means fewer three-receiver sets. Which means less work for the third receiver.
Even with that, though, Shepard thinks he can have a better season that he did as a rookie.
“We have a lot of guys who can go and we’re definitely going to spread the ball around,” he said, “but I feel like it could open me up if I do what I’m supposed to do.”
The Giants certainly don’t ignore Shepard. There was an almost audible exhale from the organization when the results of tests on that injured ankle came back as optimistic as they did. They know how important he is to this offense.
“I know we don’t overlook him at all,” cornerback Eli Apple said. “We know his role, his production. He was very productive for us last year, getting a lot of touchdowns for us . . . mostly in the red zone, too. He’s a very good slot option for us and he can also play outside. He’s very versatile.”
Shepard came into the league fully confident that he would contribute right away. Beckham even tabbed him as the offensive rookie of the year before he played his first NFL snap. There was a lot of buzz around him.
“They don’t draft you in the second round if they don’t want you to make an immediate impact,” he said. “I knew I was going to get that shot and I knew I was going to seize it. I didn’t know exactly what numbers I’d put up, but I knew I was going to do something.”
This year, that something may be a different thing. A quieter thing.
“I think he’s more comfortable in the offense and comfortable with his role,” Apple said. “I think he’s going to have a huge year.”
The fewer people who notice that, the better his season may be.