Hometown: Upper Marlboro, Md
High School: Gwynn Park HS
Year: RS Junior
Leslie Shepherd played WR for the Redskins, Browns and Dolphins following a solid college career at Temple. All told, in his NFL career, he had 183 receptions and scored 22 TDs. He also had 28 rushing carries. Leslie wasn't a big guy, but he's still bigger than his son. That's the main reason his son was seen as a RB. While he could've played slot receiver, he was recruited by most as a RB.
Across the board, he was a 3 star recruit. Scout ranked him as the 102nd best RB prospect, while ESPN had him 98th. He was recruited by most of the ACC as well as some Big East schools. He was not, to my knowledge, recruited by his dad's alma mater. While there was some talk about using him as a slot receiver, and it's possible that we'll see him in that role this season, Shepherd was slotted at RB right away upon enrolling at UVA.
While Shepherd hasn't followed his father's footsteps as a WR, he does have tremendous receiving skills for a RB. He was rated by Rivals as an All-Purpose Back, which usually means a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Shepherd showed that skill when he went for a 73 yard TD on a wheel route against Louisiana Tech. Shepherd had just 6 catches on the season, but he was behind Perry Jones on the depth chart. Jones also had very good receiving skills.
This year, Shepherd will likely be the primary third-down back, and could approach the 49 catches that Jones had last season. Shepherd's competition in that role is newcomer Tiquan Mizzell, who also had good receiving skills. How much playing time Mizzell gets will be determined by how quickly he's able to pick up the playbook and the college game in general.
Shepherd was also the Hoos primary kick-return guy last season. He had 42 returns for 929 yards, setting the Hoos single season record for return yards. His 42 returns were also a single season record, made possible by a bad team that allowed a lot of scores. His long was 72 yard return against Georgia Tech. He averaged just over 22 yards per return. He was also the only player to return a punt for the Hoos last year, but averaged just 3.9 yards per return.
Shepherd is likely to be our primary KR option again, with Mizzell and some others getting options too. As for punt returns, that remains to be seen. Much of the problems the Hoos have had in the PR game the past few years are the fault of scheme. We just don't seem to block on PRs as well as most other teams. While Shepherd was not the problem, the coaching staff will look for some different options back there. Shepherd, for sure, will get some chances there, but Mizzell will get some looks as well, and there are a number of other young Hoos who have the athleticism to do the job.
Of course, Shepherd is primarily a RB, and that means running the ball is his primary job. He rushed the ball just 19 times last year, for 122 yards and a TD. That's a 6.4 ypc clip that easily led the team. His lost run was just 26 yards, so it isn't like one rush accounted for most of that yardage. Shepherd is a tough, determined runner despite his relative lack of size. He's quick, rather than fast. He hits the hole hard, and he can change direction without losing a step. He has great balance, and can slip through small cracks in the defense. His small stature allows him to hide behind the big OLs until he sees a gap, and then he can burst through it.
Shepherd also has a second gear, one that he showed off on that long TD against LT. He's also tougher to bring down that a guy his size should be because he has a low center-of-gravity and he doesn't stop moving. He's not the kind of guy who's going to carry the ball 20 times per game, because he just doesn't have the size for that kind of wear. But as a complimentary back, he's a fantastic talent and he can do just about everything a RB needs to do.