"We know with Shep that Shep can play both inside and out. Now, we have two guys that can do that. I think when you have two guys who can do that, you become less predictable."
That recent quote from Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula about the addition of Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard's role stuck out to me. When Tate signed with the Giants, the stigma was that the team had two slot receivers as starters, not necessarily two receivers who could line up anywhere and play well. Shepard is best known for his slot work and Tate has been a slot maven since he stepped foot in Detroit... before falling off the map with the Eagles in the second half of last season.
In my never-ending search for edges to help win Fantasy leagues, I decided to challenge the whole "Giants have a bunch of slot receivers" stereotype and maybe even get a grip on what to expect from their ugly-on-the-surface passing game in 2019.
Let's start with Shepard:
Shepard spent much of his first two seasons playing in the slot, including when Odell Beckham got hurt the final 12 games of 2017. When Beckham got hurt again late in 2018, however, Shepard had an audition playing outside more often. He reaped his best receiving averages and targets per game for the season in those games, helping him reach his career highs in receptions, yardage and yards per catch.
The only downside was a disappointing catch rate (53 percent) with three drops in one game, though seven of those targets were deemed uncatchable. Shepard was fearless going over the middle or dealing with press coverage and remains a very good route-runner with solid speed and, despite the triple-drop game, good hands.
If this doesn't tell you how Tate should be deployed in the Giants offense, I don't know what will. Tate's receiving average when lined up wide was only better when he was with the Eagles, and that's thanks to a broken-tackle catch-and-run for 32 yards. Take that one play out and Tate's average when out wide would be 8.7 yards per catch — barely ahead of his slot receiving average.
And if that's not enough for you, consider that Tate was on pace for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns with the Lions in 2018 before getting traded. He had a great role there, knew the system, and had incredible synergy with Matthew Stafford; he had none of that with the Eagles and Nick Foles.
Who knows when, or if, he'll have it with the Giants and Eli Manning.
"He's got learning to do," Shula said of Tate. "Sometimes the older guys have a little harder (time) because sometimes they are so used to having this thing called this way for so many years, and now it is called exactly the opposite."
It's difficult to assume anything when it comes to the Giants, a team that's made some questionable draft choices and are over-committed to a 38-year-old quarterback. In fact, their best pass-catcher figures to be Evan Engram, who is as versatile a receiver as Shepard but in a larger, tougher-to-defend package. Shepard and Tate will undoubtedly mix-and-match where they line up, like Shula said, but it makes perfect sense to let Tate specialize on the inside and give Shepard more opportunities to line up wide. And just because Shepard lines up wide doesn't mean he can't cross the field and become an over-the-middle target for Manning. He can beat defenses in more ways than Tate can.
That is just part of the reason why he's the better Fantasy receiver to target. Shepard can get the job done no matter where he lines up, he's been with Manning his entire career, and he's fluent in this iteration of the Giants offense. It's three clear advantages he has over Tate.
Here are my expectations for both:
Both players should help Eli Manning harness his last consistent strength: short-area passing. In terms of targets, catches, and touchdowns, I think it'll be close. Both are good volume pass-catchers with the ability to make plays after the catch. But Shepard's legs are livelier and his ability to make longer plays as an outside receiver fuels his upside.
Don't put Shepard or Tate on your gotta-have-'em list, just keep them both in mind. Shepard's potential makes him worthy of a Round 8 pick regardless of format, while Tate's reception tally keeps him relevant in the same round in PPR. Dock Tate at least one round if catches don't count.