Some will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the 2014 squad. This week we’ll count down the five most important players on offense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production. On Thursday, we continue with No.2.
2013 role: Shepard was valuable as OU’s No. 2 receiver as a sophomore, finishing with 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns. He was particularly productive on third down, with 14 receptions for 227 yards and four touchdowns. Some of Shepard’s best games came when OU needed him most -- against Notre Dame (five catches, 83 receiving yards, one touchdown), Oklahoma State (seven catches, 112 receiving yards) and Alabama (seven catches, 63 yards, two touchdowns).
Expected 2014 role: Leader. No. 1 target. Top playmaker. OU will be counting on Shepard to fill the void left by NFL draftee Jalen Saunders. He will need to take his game to another level to help give OU the passing game necessary to chase a College Football Playoff berth.
Why he’s important: He’s the only proven receiver on the roster. Shepard has the talent to be an All-Big 12 receiver, but OU needs him to perform like one. If not the Sooners could be in trouble, with the rest of the receivers on the roster combining for 17 catches in 2013. He also needs to be a strong leader for a young group of receivers, both vocally and through his actions.
If he was missing: Without Shepard, the Sooners have nobody that has proven they can be trusted in big games at the receiver spot and quarterback Trevor Knight would have zero experienced targets to throw to this fall. OU’s offense would be severely handicapped, and a lack of balance could become a major problem until another receiver stepped up to fill the void. OU has some talented receivers, but none have proven they can produce like Shepard, a former Under Armour All-American.