Sterling Shepard says Eli Manning is a no-doubt Hall of Famer ... telling TMZ Sports the New York Giants legend is going to Canton on the FIRST BALLOT!!!
"For sure!" Shepard says.
Of course, Sterling's a bit biased ... the star wide receiver has spent most of his career catching passes from Eli -- but he tells us Manning truly deserves the honor.
"He meant a lot [to New York]," Shepard says. "He meant a lot to me and my career."
Eli just announced his retirement after 16 seasons Wednesday ... and the debate about his Hall of Fame candidacy is already raging strong.
Some feel like his two Super Bowl MVPs punch his ticket regardless of the rest of his resume ... while others feel his up-and-down regular season plays weren't good enough.
But, clearly, Shepard is on the pro-Eli HOF side ... telling us, "He's a great!"