Top Senior Bowl WR Sterling Shepard Uses Steve Smith As Inspiration

If there's anyone who knows what it's like to be doubted because of his size, it's Steve Smith Sr.

It still bothers him that one draft analyst "clowned" him by saying the Panthers used a third-round pick on a punt returner. All he's done since is put together a Hall of Fame-worthy career over the last 15 years as a receiver.

One of the draft's top senior receiver prospects uses Smith's story as inspiration.

Oklahoma's 5-foot-10, 193-pound Sterling Shepard doesn't have prototypical NFL receiver size either, but wants to prove he's a force to be reckoned with like Smith. Shepard is consistently reminded about his size, and it's one of the reasons he's not considered to be first-round talent (projected to go in the second or third round).

"[Smith] showed people that he can play at a high level and play big," Shepard said. "That is one of the guys that I definitely look up to and I know he's coming back for another year. That's the reason why I came [to the Senior Bowl]. I wanted to show that I have the ability and capability to play at the next level."

If Shepard were drafted by the Ravens, he couldn't ask for a better mentor than Smith to guide him through his rookie year and try to prove doubters wrong.

Despite his size, Shepard put up massive numbers during his four-year college career with 223 receptions for 3,482 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award as a senior, notching 86 catches for 1,228 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Most of that production came out of the slot. About 71 percent of his routes were run out of the slot, the second most in the country behind Ohio State's Braxton Miller, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).

The Ravens don't have a big need for slot receivers, especially with Smith coming back and similarly smaller-sized Michael Campanaro on the roster, but they are in need of playmakers no matter what the position, and Shepard has a history of being a difference-maker.

It would be premature to box him in as a slot receiver only. Shepard showed promise on deep routes. He caught all 10 of the catchable balls thrown to him on passes of 20 or more yards downfield, including four touchdowns, per PFF. It's a small sample size, but can't be ignored.

"[I want to prove] that I'm a guy that can go inside and outside," Shepard said. "A lot of teams don't think that I can play outside, but I believe I can. [I have] a knack for making big plays. That's what we pride ourselves on at Oklahoma and that's what I try to do every time I step on the field."

It was tough to get a complete idea of his potential at the Senior Bowl as Shepard was adapting to four new quarterbacks. That said, he earned some hardware by being named the Practice Player of the Week at the receiver position. And if you asked Senior Bowl corners who was the toughest receiver to cover, Shepard was frequently named.

With an accomplished college record, polished route-running skills and a knack for finding the soft spot in defenses, Shepard feels like he can make an immediate impact for the team that drafts him.

"NFL teams are looking for a guy that they don't have to tell much," Shepard said. "They can just come in and start making plays. You see that every year. With Stefon Diggs at the Vikings, he's come in and made some big plays for them this year. Guys my size are starting to really emerge to the top of this league."

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