Philadelphia's Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor had a combined 17 years of experience playing cornerback in the NFL heading into the 2002 season. Which is why Lito Sheppard, a cornerback from the University of Florida, was surprised when the Eagles drafted him in the first round that year.
"I had no interaction with Philadelphia prior to the NFL Draft," said Sheppard. "I was in close contact with two other teams at the time, and one actually worked me out two days before the draft. So Philadelphia was totally off the radar. But once I got drafted took a look at their roster, I was like, 'Wow! Why did they draft me?'"
A fair question that head coach Andy Reid and his staff left unanswered.
"Once I got drafted, they kind of gave me a thought process, I guess," Sheppard said. "I did some research about who was in the division and how they were basically trying to build the team from that point. I just kind of put it together. But initially, there wasn't any explanation and I don't think they really expected me to come in and play right away anyway."
Sheppard went through the league's equivalent of getting his feet wet, which is to say that he played on special teams and saw some action in the nickel package as a rookie. He made nine starts the following season after Taylor was injured, and became a full-time starter in 2004. He became a star, as well.
Leading the Eagles with five interceptions, Sheppard returned two for touchdowns, including a 101-yard pick-six against Dallas. Named as an All-Pro, he helped Philadelphia win the NFC Championship and appear in Super Bowl XXXIX.
"We had a lot of key components to that team," Sheppard said. "That was the year we acquired T.O. (Terrell Owens) and that was a big offensive momentum boost for our team. We were missing that star player who could really beat teams and make big plays in the passing game for us. And I think that was probably Donovan's (McNabb) best year of his career (at quarterback).
"We put together a pretty solid secondary. And that was the year that Jeremiah Trotter came back to the team. He was a big part of making things happen in the middle at the linebacker position. And we had a very solid defensive line in Corey Simon, Darwin Walker, Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess.
"And other than us just going out and doing what we were supposed to do and set out to do, health played a big role in that whole process. We were able to stay healthy for the most part. I think that with the skill set and the talent of guys we had we just kind of put it all together."
Even though the Patriots won the Super Bowl, the fact that it was played in Sheppard's hometown of Jacksonville, Florida made the game even more memorable for him.
"That's what made it bitter and sweet," Sheppard said. "It was just going to be a very special moment to have a chance to play in the Super Bowl, let alone be in your hometown. Just to have that opportunity was awesome. We had a lot of fans there, but we ran into the New England Patriots. That was a tough team and you've got to tip your hat off to them. But they definitely ruined our sweet homecoming."
Spending seven of his 10-year NFL career in Philadelphia, Sheppard collected 18 interceptions as an Eagle, returning three for touchdowns, including a 102-yard score against Dallas in 2006, which made him the first player in NFL history with two 100-plus-yard returns. In addition to being named All-Pro in 2004, he was also selected to play in two Pro Bowls.
"I just wanted to be a player who worked hard, who went out and became one of the best," said Sheppard. "I'd always been one of the best at each level of competition I played at, and I accomplished that in the NFL. I would have liked to put together a body of work that would have been Hall of Fame contention. But I think of the criteria that holds and I don't think I met that criteria.
"But just falling short of that, I think I made a statement in Philadelphia for the time and duration I played there. I would comfortably say that I was one of the top DBs in Philadelphia history. That was a big goal. I would love to (return and) retire as an Eagle. My career was built in Philadelphia. They gave me my opportunity. That ultimately changed my life. And for that, I was able to give those fans and the team two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro nod, and just be a part of some history-making teams."
Now making his home back in Jacksonville with his wife, Nicole, and his children, Mya, Reighan, Terrell and Boston, Sheppard is finishing the work for a sociology degree from the University of Florida. He also recently became a part-time ambassador for the daily fantasy sports company, FanDuel.
"They do a lot of community work and radio talk shows about fantasy football," Sheppard said. "So basically, I'll be joining the team and be that liaison between the company and the NFL ties, being that's one of the areas they have fantasy sports in. I just basically try to better the brand and the product from an ex-player's perspective."
A coaching intern during Philadelphia's 2014 Training Camp, Sheppard would welcome the chance to return to football.
"Ultimately, that's what I would love to do, be able to stay around the game," he said. "Whether it's coaching, scouting or just something dealing with my expertise in that area.
"But it's a tough area to really crack into. And being 34 years old, it's not young, but it's young in a lot of people's minds. Especially if you're an ex-player. So I would just love that opportunity."