by Ray Kuhn
So far this season, his fourth in the NFL, Russell Shepard has already eclipsed his career reception total. After going without a catch in his rookie season, Shepard had a combined seven catches in the next two seasons while spending the majority of his time on special teams.
Over the summer, especially prior to the beginning of training camp, quotes from coaches often don’t hold much value. One of the great skills of being a fantasy owner, is being able to differentiate news that has legitimate value from fluff. Shepard was one of the players Tampa Bay’s head coach, Dirk Koetter, praised as being in the wide receiver conversation for 2016.
Now, with the season ending injury to Vincent Jackson, opportunity has presented itself to Shepard and he took advantage of it last week.
Entering Tampa Bay’s game in San Francisco, there was speculation that Cecil Shorts would be replacing Jackson opposite Mike Evans. Adam Humphries has surprised so far this season, but that success has come out of the slot. After catching two of his three targets for 17 yards last week, Humphries has 22 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown through six games.
The Buccaneers appear committed to leaving Humphries in the slot, and Shorts was ultimately not targeted last week. That brings us to Shepard who was targeted eight times against the 49ers. After spending his first three seasons just about exclusively on special teams, Shepard capitalized on his new found role by catching five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown.
It is clear that Tampa Bay is going to continue throwing the ball downfield, and Evans (while he will continue to have success as a WR1), will also receive a great deal of opposing defense’s attention. And that will open up opportunities for Shepard.
This week’s match-up against Oakland and their leaky pass defense (along with their explosive offense) will feature lots of offense between teams, and plenty of opportunities for Shepard to put together a repeat performance.