Tight end Adam Shaheen was wide open when he introduced himself to the NFL. Against the Steelers in Week 3, there was no one near him when he made his first touchdown catch on a play-action pass from Mike Glennon from the 2.
“I took advantage of my opportunities,” Shaheen said.
That he did, though they were scarce in his first season.
As the 2017 season concludes Sunday against the Vikings, the Bears should feel good about their rookie class, one that was ripped by scouts and draft pundits.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky has experienced ups and downs, but there are concrete, positive signs of growth, which includes a 90.45 passer rating in his last four starts. He has surpassed Kyle Orton for the most passing yards by a rookie in team history.
Running back Tarik Cohen is a game-breaker that many scouts missed on. He is now a Pro Bowl alternate after becoming the first rookie since Bears legend Gale Sayers in 1965 to score touchdowns receiving, running, throwing and returning a punt in one season.
Safety Eddie Jackson (two interceptions, three fumble recoveries) has started every game and is the first player in NFL history to score multiple defensive touchdowns of 75 yards or more in one game.
But what about Shaheen, who the Bears selected with the 45th pick? How should everyone feel about him?
Unlike the other rookies, there has been nothing historic about Shaheen’s first season. The fifth tight end taken in the 2017 draft, Shaheen also ranks eighth in receiving yards (127) and is tied for seventh in catches (12) among rookies in his position.
“I’ve grown a lot,” Shaheen said. “I’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve adjusted to the speed pretty decently. Every game, I think I’ve taken a step of getting better.”
Shaheen missed the last two games because of the chest injury that he suffered in arguably in his best game. He had four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown in the victory against the Bengals.
The Bears’ development of Shaheen arguably has been more gradual and incremental than Trubisky’s. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains called tight end “a very complex position” because of how different it is played at the college level, particularly with blocking.
Shaheen also made a significant jump from Division II Ashland, where he was a record-setter. The Giants’ Evan Engram, the 23rd overall pick who leads all rookie tight ends with 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns, was an All-American at Ole Miss.
The Bears preferred to keep Shaheen behind Zach Miller and Dion Sims early in the season. Shaheen’s touchdown against the Steelers was his only catch in the first eight weeks. Miller’s knee injury and Sims’ illness resulted in more playing time for Shaheen.
But the Bears do feel good about Shaheen’s development. Loggains said he’s had a solid rookie season. Most of Shaheen’s 12 catches were either contested or diving grabs (two for touchdowns).
In time, the team believes that Shaheen will do more. The Bears still only have six packages for him. All of his catches also have come when he is a prototypical in-line tight end.
“We know that he’s going to be a good, all-around tight end because of his size, speed, his athleticism,” Loggains said. “In the offseason, the biggest jump he is going to have to take is in the run game. But he came in and affected the game in his opportunities in the red area the way we thought he would.”
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