If you’re expecting Adam Shaheen to be Rob Gronkowski you’re going to be disappointed. But the 2017 second round pick should be able to produce for the Bears as a rookie.
No player has drawn more rave reviews than Shaheen simply because his combination of size and athleticism have been so incredibly difficult for the Bears defenders to match up with. That is an advantage he’s going to maintain throughout the early part of his NFL career.
The reports from beat writers and others is that Shaheen has been borderline dominant and hasn’t dropped a single pass. His teammates have also gone on record as being impressed by the second rounder from Ashland.
Shaheen enters the league with the nickname “Baby Gronk”. That’s not really an accurate comparison — Gronk is significantly faster — but that label and early camp play have some fans going crazy with their expectations for him. I don’t expect him to be Gronk, but history suggests he has a good chance at being productive early with bigger things on the horizon.
Of the 15 tight ends who have been taken in the first two rounds since 2010, seven have managed at least 30 catches as rookies. Just last year, Hunter Henry made a big impact on the Chargers with 36 catches and eight touchdowns. The ceiling for those players, of course, is Gronk himself, who caught 42 passes for 526 yards and 10 touchdowns.
That ceiling may not be considered particularly high, but the floor isn’t really low. Out of those 15 players only three caught fewer than 25 passes as a rookie. Troy Niklaus is considered strictly a blocking tight end, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins has had issues off the field and Gavin Escobar has struggled from the same ailment Martellus Bennett suffered early in his career.
Early in camp, Shaheen has been working with the ones and the twos behind Dion Sims. Sims will remain the team’s top tight end, but I expect Shaheen to get plenty of work in two-tight end sets. With Jordan Howard’s emergence and the Bears’ inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver, I expect the Bears to be more physical this year, including the usage of bigger packages.
Shaheen will make the Bears better in the red zone simply because they’ll be able to trot two capable tight ends onto the field, something that simply wasn’t the case last year as the team ranked 23rd in red zone percentage. Howard averaged 6.2 yards per carry in two tight end sets last year, but only had 76 attempts largely because one of the tight ends was Logan Paulsen, who brought absolutely nothing to the table. The Bears didn’t have a single tight end who was multidimensional last year, now they might have two.
Shaheen needs to improve his blocking. He simply wasn’t good enough in that area at Ashland, but he has the size, length and strength to be a very good blocker in the NFL. What should help him is the Bears highly-regarded tight ends coach Frank Smith has an offensive line background. He should be able to teach Shaheen good technique and the rest should take care of itself.
The second rounder will have to earn his spot on the roster, which should help him early in his career. Zach Miller is one of the team’s biggest mysteries. He’s probably their best tight end, but he ended last season on IR and there’s a good chance he’ll end this year there too. He’s a good player and a great locker room influence, but the guy’s body just won’t allow him to play NFL football. My guess is the Bears will try to trade Miller once he’s healthy enough to pass a physical. After that, the roster has some interesting young pieces, but Shaheen’s physical ability will likely be too much to keep him off the field.
Shaheen will never be Gronk, who many regard as the best tight end in the history of the league. But, that’s OK. He has the potential to be one of the better tight ends in the league and both recent history and early reports indicate he’s going to help the Bears right away.