I was a fan of Adam Shaheen heading into the 2017 draft. I felt that he would be a good pickup in about the third round, and I wondered if he had the sort of talent to turn into a steal with just a bit of development. Thus, when Shaheen was taken 45th overall, I felt it was a reach, but I also felt like it was a reach that might turn out okay.
Now, a year later, I still have hopes for the tight end from Ashland.
What I am not worried about
First, I have to state up front that I do not consider playing time under the last regime to be any meaningful indicator of a player’s talent. Loggains and Fox had Jordan Howard buried on the depth chart behind Jeremy Langford, and John Fox clearly had old school beliefs about playing time and younger players. It is possible that Adam Shaheen’s very limited snaps were an honest indication of his talent and potential. However, it is also at least as likely that Loggains and Fox were mistaken in their estimations of what Shaheen had to offer.
Second, I do not see the acquisition of Trey Burton as any sort of judgment by Nagy and Company on Shaheen’s potential. Good offensive teams frequently have multiple, dynamic tight ends, and Ryan Pace has a tendency to throw multiple efforts at filling a position. He in fact seems to acquire players based on their individual merit instead of on how they fit together as a team, so picking up Burton does not necessarily mean that a verdict has been passed on the second-round draft pick of 2017.
Finally, I am not worried about Shaheen’s drops and stumbles. I have read comments from a few fans who seem to believe that Shaheen walked out onto the field after coating his fingers in grease or something. Seven tight ends drafted in 2017 had enough playing time to earn a positive AV from Pro Football Reference last season, and of those seven Shaheen had the highest catch rate (86%) by a decent margin, though admittedly the second highest (George Kittle at 68%) had a much greater volume of catches. Did Shaheen have some rough patches? Yes. However, they were a proportionally small number of his overall plays.
What I am encouraged by
So, everyone sees different things when a player walks onto the field, and we tend to reinforce our own biases. One of the first pieces I ever wrote for Windy City Gridiron was a fan post on why the famed “Eye Test” fails. I think it’s way too easy to see what we expect to see.
When I watched Shaheen play, I saw a decent athlete use his body in traffic to try to make plays. I saw a young man in a bad offense do a decent job to take advantage of the opportunities given to him, even though those were limited. Others saw a bust, a Division II athlete playing out of his league, and a limited player. The stats themselves are of limited value, because of the small sample size, but they aren’t terrible.
Shaheen only played 239 snaps on offense. By comparison, of the six other tight ends to earn at least AV 1 last season, only Gerald Everett (drafted one spot ahead of Shaheen) had fewer than 500 snaps. Everett’s 297 snaps resulted in 32 targets and 16 receptions (a 50% catch rate); they also resulted in 244 yards and 2 touchdowns. With a lower catch rate and comparable snaps, Everett did much better in terms of producing yards. However, another way to look at it is with fewer snaps and less than half as many targets, Shaheen got more than half as many yards and even more touchdowns.
Shaheen was sixth in terms of yards earned per snap (his draft position was fifth), and almost every other rate statistic (yards per snap, receptions per snap, and so on) lines up more or less with his draft position as well. The real exception is his touchdown rate, which is unusually high (3 touchdowns in just 239 snaps is remarkably high when every other player with 4+ was in on at least 500 snaps).
So, my eyes tell me Shaheen made the most of limited opportunities. That stats themselves back this up, with an important caveat--Shaheen is at the trail end of what was considered a historically strong draft class for his position, and he more or less played like that. He was not as good as the first-rounders even on a per-snap basis, but he was comfortably in the same league as the other successful players drafted after the first round.
What I want to see
Obviously, if a second coaching staff doesn’t think Shaheen is worth playing, the verdict will be in. Shaheen is now competing with free agents from two different years in Dion Sims and Trey Burton. However, neither of those players have had 40 receptions or 350 yards in a season, yet. If Shaheen cannot challenge them and fight his way to the #2 tight end spot on the roster, then the verdict is probably in on him. However, if he can put together a bid for the #2 spot, then it’s possible that Shaheen will turn out to be a pleasant surprise in 2018. Even if he falls to #3 due to scheme but still manages to be more than a Special Teams player (if, say, he more than doubles his number of snaps and increases his rate production at the same time), he has the potential to be another example of a reach who worked out.
For now, however, I hold out hope that he’s going to surprise people in 2018 by turning into a solid weapon for Mitchell Trubisky in Matt Nagy’s new offense.