As the Giants hunkered down to assemble their team for the 2019 season, there were glaring holes in the roster but a sense that, at least in one area, they were top-notch. With Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard, they possessed as much firepower as nearly anyone else in the NFL.
Scratch that presumed strength and insert a large question mark. Removing Beckham from any offense creates a talent void and trading him to the Browns instantly makes the Giants a team in dire need of help at wide receiver. Eli Manning can hand the ball to Barkley, but without Beckham there is no target to command extra attention from defensive backs, and defensive coordinators will sleep better the week leading into a game with the Giants.
Shepard, 25, is entering the final year of his rookie contract, about to embark on a season of great importance, as he will be playing not only for the Giants but also for a new deal. He does not have to worry about getting his share of the targets. With Beckham no longer running routes beside him, Shepard will see the ball far more frequently than ever, other than the games Beckham missed dealing with injuries.
A second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, Shepard has shown himself to be a reliable receiver, best-utilized in the slot, where his strength belies his lack of height. Shepard is fast enough to get down the field and is actually a better leaper than Beckham, but three years into his career must be viewed mostly as a possession receiver, as he averages 12 yards per catch. He has been consistent — 65, 59 and 66 receptions in his three seasons — and more than earned his four-year, $5.94 million rookie contract.
Just like that, the Giants are gasping for credibility at a position Beckham’s presence once assured them of exalted status. After Shepard, the depth chart is a collection of players with little or no pedigree. There are five other receivers on the roster and they total 69 receptions and five touchdowns. Almost all of that production (61 receptions and five touchdowns) comes from Corey Coleman, a 2016 first-round draft pick of the Browns out of Baylor who was a bust in Cleveland.
After Coleman, it is a grim list: Jawill Davis, Quadree Henderson, Alonzo Russell and Brittan Golden. The Giants must add to their crop and cannot wait until the NFL draft to do so. The free-agent market is not strong. Tyrell Williams, a capable receiver with the Chargers, would have been a desirable addition but he is headed to the Raiders. Other veterans still unsigned include Golden Tate, Michael Crabtree and Randall Cobb. None will make anyone forget about Odell Beckham Jr.