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Buffs Film Room: Why Will Sheppard will be Colorado's next great wide receiver

Jake Schwanitz Avatar
January 3, 2024

Shedeur Sanders has a new number-one wide receiver. Will Sheppard proved himself to be one of the most consistent wide receivers in the SEC for the Vanderbilt Commodores over the last three seasons and now he heads west to team up with Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders and Shedeur Sanders.

Sheppard’s ceiling was limited by the quality of quarterbacks Vanderbilt had the last three years but he was still able to put up 150 receptions for 2037 yards and 21 touchdowns in that time. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Sheppard instantly fills the void left by Xavier Weaver as he heads to the NFL.

Weaver joined Colorado as a graduate transfer and boosted his NFL Draft stock tremendously after putting up career highs and leading the Buffs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (908) in 2023. Colorado returns a strong group of young and talented wide receivers in Travis Hunter, Jimmy Horn Jr. and Omarion Miller but Sheppard should fall in line as CU’s X-receiver and Shedeur’s go-to target at all areas of the field in 2024.

Off the heezy

The first thing you’ll notice about Will Sheppard when you turn on the tape is how imposing he is physically. Sheppard has the ideal physical build for an X-receiver and uses his size and physicality to make spectacular catches all over the field. We saw in 2023 how much Shedeur trusted Weaver to go up and make tough catches deep down the sideline and over defensive backs, in 2024 that player will be Will Sheppard.

While offensive line and schematic issues derailed the Buffs’ offense in the second half of 2023, sometimes the best play was Shedeur trusting his receivers and giving them a chance in 50/50 situations. Sheppard can tip the scales in his favor and turn 50/50 throws into 70/30 throws.

Sheppard’s 21 receiving touchdowns in three seasons for the Commodores is what made him one of the most highly sought-after wide receivers in the transfer portal. On this touchdown against Wake Forest, Sheppard shows his route running ability, physical play style, fantastic hands and tracking ability all at once.

Sheppard has virtually no space along the sideline to make a play on this throw against South Carolina but at 6-foot-3, any ball thrown into his zip code is in play.

This time against Missouri, Sheppard has plenty of space to operate the alley without the worry of tight-roping the sideline.

Big XII defensive backs will have to mind their head when lining up against Sheppard. Going up and over the top of defenders to make the big plays is what he does.

Sheppard was a consistent red zone threat throughout his career at Vanderbilt and was a matchup nightmare on fades to either pylon.

When playing with the sub-par talent that Vanderbilt had at quarterback, having to make difficult catches and winning one-on-one opportunities is how Sheppard was able to be so productive for a team that was routinely outmatched in the SEC. Now paired with Shedeur Sanders, Sheppard should have even more opportunities to make special plays for the Buffs in 2024.

Big play threat

Sheppard’s game goes beyond being a red zone threat and catching fades over defensive backs’ heads, he can also create after the catch and is a threat to pick up massive chunks of yardage whenever he touches the football.

Sheppard once again bails out his quarterback with a stunning catch along the sideline then turns on the jets to take it the house for an 85-yard touchdown.

This time Vanderbilt’s quarterback delivers a nice ball and hits Sheppard in stride for six on the glance RPO.

Sheppard wins this route with speed and stacking the defender on his back early in the route. He gives his quarterback a nice window between the safety and corner to drop the ball in the bucket.

That 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame also makes Sheppard difficult to tackle in the open field. Smaller cornerbacks are at a disadvantage in multiple ways when lined up across from him.

Fades and go routes are where Sheppard makes his money but he also has the speed and route-running skills to get himself open and make plays after the catch between the 20s. He may not have the game-breaking speed of Jimmy Horn Jr. or the rare athleticism Travis Hunter has but Sheppard is a well-rounded wide receiver that fits into any offense.

Will Sheppard is a complete player

Mossing defensive backs and creating big plays is what Sheppard does best, but he is a complete football player who can help a football team win in multiple ways. Just like Xavier Weaver, Sheppard can do the dirty work in the short and intermediate areas of the field and be a factor on special teams.

Another good release and stem gets Sheppard open off the line and he shows great toughness and strength to keep churning the legs and carry defenders down the field.

Xavier Weaver stepped in as Colorado’s punt returner sporadically in 2023, Sheppard can do the same thing. Last year he had nine punt returns for 89 yards at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt runs a return to their sideline that Sheppard takes advantage of to set the Commodores up deep in Northern Illinois territory. Colorado ran a similar punt return against Arizona State that Weaver nearly took to the house.

Colorado is getting another dawg at the wide receiver position who can reliably catch the ball and punish defenders in underneath coverage.

This is the kind of toughness that Weaver showed throughout 2023. Black and gold already looks good on Sheppard and he has all the traits to follow in Weaver’s footsteps in 2024.

The parallels between Sheppard and Weaver are too strong to ignore. Will Sheppard’s play style is reminiscent of a bigger, more physical Xavier Weaver. Both entered Colorado with a bounty of experience and will have a future playing on Sundays. Weaver committed to Colorado in late February of 2023 and didn’t arrive on campus until after the Buffs finished spring football. Sheppard will have the advantage of participating in spring practices and playing in front of an offensive line that has been dramatically improved since the Buffs last walked on a football field.

Coach Prime bluntly laid out where Colorado must improve to be a better team in 2024 and with Will Sheppard in the fold, there’s no reason to believe that Shedeur Sanders and Colorado’s offense will be amongst the best in the Big XII in 2024.

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