That's why the latest mock draft roundup shows wide receiver as the position heavily favored to be addressed with the 24th-overall pick. However, we're starting to see a new name mentioned with the likes of Baylor's Corey Coleman, TCU's Josh Doctson, Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell and Notre Dame's Will Fuller.
I’m as much at fault as anyone, but there has been a surprising lack of Round 1 love for Shepard thus far. It is probably because he profiles more as a slot guy (5’ 10", 194 pounds) than a true No. 1. But he deserves to be in this range because of how dominant he can be there, as a polished weapon with dazzling open-field abilities. The Bengals just lost Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. They recoup a lot of versatility in this selection.
To this point, Shepard has been projected as a second-round prospect in just about every mock draft, but it appears the buzz for him being a first-round prospect is gaining steam. Just last week, Pro Football Focus had Sheppard ranked as their 24th-best prospect in this draft, ahead of Will Fuller, Laquon Treadwell and Ohio State's Michael Thomas.
Shepard finished his OU career with 3,482 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns. The 5'10", 194-pound ball of fire was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2015 and was twice named to the All-Big 12 first team. Shepard caught 86 passes for 1,288 yards (15.0 avg) and 11 touchdowns as a senior this past season.
His late father, Derrick, was an OU receiver in the 1980s and went on to play five NFL seasons.
In a separate article, SI's Doug Farrar did an in-depth breakdown of Shepard, which notes his lack of top-end speed is why he's not getting more talk in the first round and is rated as the 35th-best draft prospect.
It’s entirely possible that the only thing keeping Shepard from being a sure-fire first-round pick is his relative lack of a top gear in deeper routes, but it’s also possible that this one liability may not matter. In today’s NFL, where three-wide sets can be a base offense, teams are in desperate need of receivers who don't necessarily project as number-one targets right away, but ascend to that level through route awareness, toughness, and schematic advantage. For teams in need of a legitimate outside receiver who can also dominate in the slot, there are few better prospects in this draft class.
Pro Comparison: Kendall Wright, Titans (First round, 2012, Baylor)
Andrew Watkins of Today's Pigskin wrote why Shepard to the Bengals is a perfect match. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein is hearing Shepard has the potential to be a star in the pros while comparing him to Seahawks star-in-the-making receiver, Tyler Lockett.
SOURCES TELL US: "I played against his daddy and he was really talented, but Sterling picked up where his dad left off and then took it way further. He's a great person and leader too. He's going to be a star in the pros." -- AFC area scout
NFL COMPARISON: Tyler Lockett
Personally, I'd be fine with the Bengals taking Shepard in Round 1, though I'd prefer they trade back to get him in the same way they did with Kevin Zeitler in 2013. That worked out great, so hopefully a similar move with Shepard would too. CBS Sports has him rated as their 66th-best prospect, so waiting until Round 2 might be a better option.
Elsewhere, there's been a mini run of picks for Will Fuller to the Bengals. Nate Davis of USA Today Sports tabbed Fuller to the Bengals, citing his deep-threat speed upgrading an already explosive offense.
The fastest wideout at the combine (4.32 in the 40), he could make defenses pay for doubling WR A.J. Green and/or TE Tyler Eifert. Fuller also fills a big hole after Cincinnati lost WRs Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency.
SB Nation's latest mock draft also has Fuller landing in Cincinnati.
A run on wide receivers would not be good for the Bengals. Although Fuller is a good player, he's still the fourth player at the position to come off the board in the first round. For the Bengals Fuller is a nice replacement for Marvin Jones and would provide a little more field stretching ability.
This past season with the Irish, Fuller had 62 catches for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year, despite playing with an inexperienced quarterback due to injuries at the position. In 2014, he caught 76 passes for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns. There's no question he'd be a solid addition, though he may be a bit of a stretch at this spot.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares Fuller to Carolina Panthers receiver Ted Ginn Jr., a guy who you wouldn't spend even a second or third-round pick on if you could draft him out of college now. CBS Sports does have Fuller ranked as the 28th-overall prospect, so at least their assessment and valuation of Fuller suggests he'd be a good pick at 24.