Positives: Good combination of size and athletic ability. Reads plays quickly and flows to the ball very well. Avoids blocks well with his speed and burst and moves through the trash well. Has good straight line speed and should be able to play in the middle as I think he has enough sideline to sideline speed to stick there in the NFL. Shows ability on blitzes and has good instincts for timing them up. Is a very reliable tackler and makes a lot of plays around the line of scrimmage due to his read and react ability as well as his closing speed. Has a good motor and will chase plays down from the back side and will run plays down to the outside and make a play at the line of scrimmage due to his hustle. Shows some ability in coverage and seems to understand his assignments. He flashes the ability to get off of blocks, but none of the blocks I have seen him get off or shed have been very fundamentally sound.
Negatives: Doesn’t seem to turn and run well in coverage, struggles to change direction at times and will over-run plays because of it. Takes good angles, but struggles to break down when pursuing a play laterally at full speed unless he runs right into the ball-carrier. Doesn’t show much ability to shed blocks though he does flash some hand usage at times. Can fall victim to play action at times because he looks to support the run so consistently. Can get washed out by offensive linemen or good blocking fullbacks because he isn’t that aggressive or physical of a player. He is more finesse, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he prefers to avoid the block and make a play than to stack, shed and wrap up the ball-carrier which can be a problem when defending the run in the NFL. He could also stand to get stronger because that would help him shed blocks more consistently at the line of scrimmage and at the second level.
Overall: I like Sheppard. He has his flaws but I think he will be a solid starter in the NFL. He has good athleticism, he is a reliable tackler, he shows some ability to play well in space when in zone coverage and he flashes potential as a blitzer. I don’t think he will walk into training camp and win a starting spot, but he should be able to contribute some as a rookie and second year player if necessary, plus on special teams. I think he can stick at MLB or WLB in the NFL because he has the athleticism to play both, and the scheme he is drafted to will likely determine which spots he plays. I would like to see Sheppard work harder to improve his upper body strength and to work on his hand usage to stack and shed because that would really help him out as a run defender, and if he can improve his awareness so he doesn’t fly down every time he reads run (which leads to him getting sucked in against play action) he could be more effective in coverage as well.
Projection: 3rd-4th round. Sheppard should go somewhere in this range. He has the ability to be a solid and dependable starter, but he won’t be able to start right away and he doesn’t have a very high ceiling. While he may get stronger and improve his hand usage in the NFL I don’t think he will ever be an elite run defender, nor will he be an elite blitzer or pass defender. Therefore his ceiling isn’t as high as a couple other linebackers in this class. But, to his credit, his floor isn’t as terrifying as some of the other prospects that are graded above him.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Point of Attack: 3.0
Pass Rush: 2.0
Thanks for reading!