The Giants Guys

Healthy Beckham, Shepard Leading Giants’ WR Corps Into Camp

The New York Giants wide receiver corps is widely considered on of the top units in the NFL. When they’re healthy, that is. Last year, they lost Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall early on and had to scramble with a makeshift lineup each week, hoping one of their young bucks stepped up to the plate.

This summer, they will be bringing Beckham back (Marshall was released) along with several other wideouts that incoming coaching staff is excited to work with. Head coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert are all in their first season with the Giants, but they are certain they can restore the unit back to the top of the league.

Tolbert will add a new wrinkle to the group. He has 15 years of NFL experience, all as a wide receivers coach with Arizona (2003), Buffalo (2004-09), Carolina (2010) and Denver (2011-17).

Here is a rundown of what to expect this summer at Giants training camp.

Odell Beckham Jr.

Coming off a lost season in which he played only four games before breaking his ankle, Beckham, by all accounts, is healthy and ready to go. One problem, though. He wants the Giants to put a long-term deal on the table before he takes the field this year.

The club is hedging at the moment, wanting to see more from their star before they plop down a king’s ransom for him.

Once this contract business is behind them, the Giants know they’ll be getting a superstar offensive weapon, one who has performed to historic levels in his first three full seasons.

The dynamic for Beckham has changed this season, however. The Giants are in a new offense and have added another potential superstar to the equation in running back Saquon Barkley. Toss in emerging tight end Evan Engram and Beckham may see a sharp reduction in his targets this season.

Has Beckham matured enough to reel in his shooting star and begin to assimilate to a team-first format? The Giants think so, and as a result, he may be even more explosive going forward. But, first, they must get his name on that piece of paper.

Sterling Shepard

Going into his third season, the Giants are still not sure what they have in Shepard. All they know is they have something good.

Shepard was predominantly used as a slot receiver in the base offense, but is likely to see more action on the outside this year with Engram and Barkley in the lineup. One thing that he must hope to do is stay the field more. He missed five games due to various conditions (hamstring, neck, migraines) and the Giants will need him to be more durable.

Shepard had 105 targets as a rookie with 65 receptions for 683 yards and eight touchdowns. Last year, as the Giants’ main wide receiver after the injuries to Beckham and Marshall, he caught 59 of 85 targets for 731 yards but had just two touchdowns over his 11 games.

With everyone on the field at once, it’s hard to think Shepard will draw double coverage and he could be in for a banner season if QB Eli Manning continues to trust him like has has thus far. Shepard has been very good even when covered, ranking among the NFL’s best when it come to contested catches.

Cody Latimer 

Latimer was a former second round pick for the Denver Broncos in 2014 and is considered a bust, never really establishing himself in Denver. That hasn’t stopped the Giants from reuniting him with his former coach (Tolbert) here in New York.

At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Latimer gives the Giants a big wideout with physical traits. He is just 25 and the team is back in the business of accumulating football players and Latimer has the versatility and toughness the team has been lacking the past few years.

At the Giants’ organized team activities (OTAs), Latimer had been lining up with the “ones” in place of Beckham, who was still rehabbing from the fractured ankle he suffered last October.

Latimer has opened some eyes to say the least. He looks more like a second round pick these than the washout the Broncos got the past few seasons.

Roger Lewis Jr.

While the Giants know they have in some of their other receivers, they still know very little about Lewis, who will be entering his third NFL season.

With the team needing Lewis to step up with all the injuries last season, he caught exactly half of his 72 targets for 416 yard and two touchdowns over 15 games.

Lewis is considered one team’s deep threats and with the Giants looking to get the vertical passing game back on track under Shurmur, Lewis could prove to be a valuable field-stretcher. Then again, he could be displaced by a more reliable, disciplined player who can add value on special teams as well.

Kalif Raymond

Speaking of special teams, Raymond was the Giants’ top kick and punt returner last season and may lock up a roster spot based on those skills. As a receiver, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Holy Cross product had just one reception for 12 yards. He also will be reunited with Tolbert. In Denver in 2016, Raymond was lightly used in the offense and only returned a few kicks and punts.

With the Giants, Raymond may be asked to do more than play on specials. If so, it’s hard to see him getting many reps with all of the competition for touches. It is unknown how this minute player will fit in, if he does at all. If he gets ousted for the returner job, he’ll be cut for sure.

Travis Rudolph

Rudolph was signed as a undrafted free agent out of Florida State last season, had a good camp and began the season on the team’s practice squad. He was promoted to the roster in early October and played in seven games, leading the team in targets in their Week 11 win over Kansas City.

Rudolph, 6-foot and 190 pounds, was mentioned this spring by Shurmur for doing “a good job” and his name has been bandied about as a possible for the team’s third wide receiver spot. That could well be, but he’ll have to continue to earn it. The competition is staunch and there are a lot of new faces in camp looking for work.

Others in the mix

The names are not household ones: Amba Etta-Tawo, Hunter Sharp, Marquis Bundy, Russell Shepard, Jawill Davis and Alonso Russell. If anyone can tell you at this moment which, if any, of these players can crack the Giants’ 53-man roster, I implore them to step forward.

Some of them have shown flashes at OTAs and mini-camp, but we’ll have to wait until the bullets fly at training camp and in preseason to see who is worth their salt.

Going into camp, Etta-Tawo, Bundy and Sharp are holdovers from last season’s practice squad, but that does not give them a distinct advantage since there is a new regime in place. The others were all signed as free agents this year.

Etta-Tawo is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, and Bundy is 6-foot-4. The Giants in the “get bigger” mode and want all of their players to be more physical and well-rounded. It looks to me like whoever shines on special teams this summer will boost their stock significantly.

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