Adam Shaheen

Has Adam Shaheen actually lived up to expectations in 2017?

Has Adam Shaheen actually lived up to expectations in 2017?

If the broad expectation for Adam Shaheen on July 26, when the Bears reported to training camp in Bourbonnais, was that he would be mostly deployed as a red zone threat and catch a handful of touchdowns in his rookie year…is it fair to say he’s met that expectation?

With three games remaining in the 2017 season, Shaheen has 12 catches on 14 targets for 127 yards with three touchdowns. He may not have the volume of receptions and yards to match how high the Bears drafted him in April, but he has proven to be difficult to cover in the end zone. 

There’s more to it than the numbers — while Zach Miller and Dion Sims were healthy in the first half of the season, Shaheen was primarily used as a blocking tight end (50 of his 100 snaps in the Bears’ first eight games were in three-tight-end sets, for example). And he had some missteps as a run blocker after Miller’s injury, like this one against the Philadelphia Eagles

But statistically, Shaheen’s numbers stack up somewhat favorably to those of recent rookie tight ends. 

There have been 144 tight ends to play as rookies in the last 10 years. Of those, only 24 (17 percent) have caught at least three touchdowns. Among those 24 tight ends, Shaheen currently has the highest catch percentage (85.7 percent) and the sixth highest average yards per target (9.07), though those are perhaps skewed by a small sample size (14 targets). 

With three games to go, let’s say Shaheen catches one more touchdown and eight more passes (that may be a conservative estimate, given how well he played against Cincinnati). But that would give Shaheen 20 receptions and four touchdowns; only 12 rookie tight ends have hit those benchmarks in the last decade. 

Comparatively, in the last 10 years, there have been 24 second-year tight ends to have at least 20 receptions and at least four touchdowns. The players to hit those marks in each of their first two seasons: Mychal Rivera, Aaron Hernandez, Hunter Henry, Rob Gronkowski, Jermaine Gresham, Jimmy Graham and John Carlson. For the most part, that's an impressive list. 

It’s still too early to tell what direction Shaheen’s career is taking. Even as he wasn’t doing much of anything in the first half of 2017 — he only was targeted twice — it was always too soon to label him a “bust” given the rarity of tight ends making a significant impact in their rookie seasons.

“So much of it is the blocking,” coach John Fox said why the adjustment to the NFL takes time for a tight end. “In this league, a lot of 4-3 teams, it’s a big defensive end, not some smallish linebacker type. So the blocking element, they’re like an offensive tackle. Technique-wise, especially when they’re 250 to 260, blocking a guy that’s real athletic, maybe at that weight or more, can be problematic.

“In the NFL the tight ends are involved a little bit more in protection, so there’s pass protection things—how you fit, where your help is—aside from the route running and the hot reads and all the stuff … I think NFL defenses are pretty complex as far as the things that they do. You have third-down defenses, you have first and second down defenses. There’s just a lot to learn for a college guy coming into the NFL.”

The best-case for the Bears is Shaheen will exit 2017 with a solid foundation on which to build in his second year in the league. We've seen signs that could be the case both as a run blocker and pass catcher, and it'll be interesting to see if he continues progressing over these final three games.

Bears film review: Adam Shaheen was better than you may have thought against Cincinnati

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Bears film review: Adam Shaheen was better than you may have thought against Cincinnati

Adam Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards with a touchdown in the Bears' blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, making it his most productive game as a pro. Three of Shaheen's catches were particularly productive: An 18-yard reception with the Bears backed up near their own end zone; a 16-yard grab on fourth and three; and a one-yard touchdown. 

But Shaheen's positive impact extended beyond his contributions to the Bears' passing game. In this week's film breakdown, we're going to look at a dozen plays on which Shaheen was involved -- nine of which were positive. 

We'll start with Tarik Cohen's near-touchdown in the first quarter, on which the rookie running back stepped out of bounds before dashing into the end zone. The play still went for a 14-yard gain. 

Shaheen is lined up in-line in a two-tight end set, and his assignment on the play is rookie linebacker Jordan Evans (blue arrow). 

Shaheen engages with Evans (blue circle) while Cohen patiently waits for a hole to develop between Shaheen and left tackle Charles Leno. Evans sticks his hand in Shaheen's neck, but Shaheen is able to maintain leverage. 

A zoomed-in view of where Evans' hand was:

Shaheen is able to drive Evans back, and the hole opens up for Cohen to duck through it, nearly breaking a touchdown. 

Jordan Howard wound up scoring the first of his two touchdowns on the next play. 

***

The second play is another example of Shaheen succeeding in the run blocking game. Here, he lines up off the line of scrimmag and pulls to his right across the offensive line. Howard (red arrow) is going to follow a hole to his left created by the offensive line. 

Shaheen squares up against Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (blue circle), who's pretty much the same size (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) as Shaheen. 

Boom. Shaheen plows into Dunlap (blue circle), not allowing him to get a shot to tackle Howard. This play goes for a 10-yard gain. 

***

This was Shaheen's first target of the game, coming on a second-and-12 from the Bears' own three-yard line. Shaheen's route has him running across the face of safety George Iloka (No. 43).

Trubisky has time to let the play develop thanks to excellent blocking from the offensive line and tight end Dion Sims (red circles). Without good pass protection, this could've been a dangerous play, but it shows the confidence and aggressiveness with which Dowell Loggains called Sunday's game. 

Trubisky, with a clean pocket, sees Shaheen get a half-step on Iloka, and throws a pass to a spot only his 6-foot-6, 270 pound tight end can catch it for a 16-yard gain. This throw was a good representation of the growing trust and confidence Trubisky has in Shaheen, and Shaheen's good knack for route-running and creating an opportunity for a catch with his size. 

***

The biggest passing play involving Shaheen was his 18-yard grab on fourth and three. Shaheen isn't Trubisky's first read here, as he has Dontrelle Inman (yellow arrow) running a route to the sticks and Cohen (red arrow) running a wheel route to the near sideline. 

Inman (yellow circle) is pretty well covered, and Cohen (red arrow) hasn't separated enough to make it a safe throw on fourth down. 

So Trubisky clicks through his progressions and spots Shaheen sliding into open space around the 25-yard line. Trubisky makes an excellent throw to get the ball to Shaheen to convert the first down. 

"Just took what the defense gave us, just trust my read, going through progressions," Trubisky said. "And again the O-line did a great job up front, giving me time so I'm able to go through my progressions, just quiet feet in the backfield and Adam ran a great route and just put the ball on him so we could convert. That was a big drive for us."

***

The Bears got the ball to Shaheen on the very next play, with Trubisky running play-action to his left and rolling to his right. The Bengals' defense flows left with the play fake, and Shaheen leaks into open space just beyond the line of scrimmage. 

Trubisky takes the easy completion, and Shaheen powers forward for a nine-yard gain. 

"We’ve just got to share that wealth," coach John Fox said. "To play Y tight end in this league there’s a lot to it, both in the run game and in the pass game. … I think he’s starting to see that maturation." 

***

This was another aggressive call by Loggains, with the Bears taking a shot at the end zone on third-and-1 just after the two-minute warning. Trubisky rolls to his right and looks for Shaheen, guarded by safety William Jackson, in the front of the end zone. 

Trubisky's throw was slightly behind Shaheen, allowing Jackson to stick his arm in on the play. 

The pass falls incomplete, though Shaheen felt he shoud've came down with it. 

"I should have caught it," Shaheen said. "It was a good ball. It was a little low, but you’ve got to come up with that.”

***

Here's one of Shaheen's two negative plays from Sunday, coming early in the third quarter. The play is designed to take a downfield shot to Kendall Wright or Markus Wheaton (red arrows), with Shaheen coming to his left across the offensive line to combo block defensive end Michael Johnson. 

Shaheen whiffs on Johnson, who's able to overpower Howard and drop Trubisky. 

Wheaton and Wright may not have necessarily got open down the field, but at the least, this could've been a zero-yard play instead of a negative one. 

***

Back to a positive play for Shaheen. This is similar to what he did on the first play we broke down, coming to his right across the offensive line to block Dunlap. 

Shaheen lowers his right shoulder into Dunlap, which is enough to spring Howard for a 14-yard run. 

Shaheen has been on the injury report this week with a chest injury, though Fox said the tight end suffered it on that incompletion in the end zone rather than on this play. 

***

Shaheen drew a pass interfernece penalty on linebacker Kevin Minter here, with Trubisky underthrowing a jump ball and Minter not dis-engaging or turning his head. 

Shaheen, clearly, is tough to cover in the end zone...

***

... As shown again here. Shaheen runs right at Minter but doesn't let him engage or re-route him. He cuts to the far side of the end zone on this route. 

Trubisky drops a dime over the head of Evans (No. 50) for a touchdown. 

"The more and more we play and the more and connections we have, the more trust you have with the receiver," Shaheen said. "That’s good." 

***

This was Shaheen's only clear negative play as a run blocker. He's in-line and matched up against Johnson (blue circle) with Howard's run going to the left of him and the offensive line. Shaheen engages with Johnson but doesn't have a good base. 

Johnson is able to throw Shaheen to the side, leaving Shaheen on the wrong side of Johnson as Howard looks to cut upfield. 

Shaheen winds up on the ground, while Johnson is able to tackle Howard for a three-yard gain. 

***

We'll end on a positive note, with Shaheen again pulling across the right side of the offensive line to block defensive end Jordan Willis. 

Shaheen blocks up Willis well, leaving a clear hole for Howard to gain at least a first down. Instead, Howard drags himself into the end zone for a touchdown. 

So what changed for Shaheen in terms of his run blocking success on Sunday?

"I think it’s experience," Loggains said. "It’s him being able to go out and do it. He did play better in the run game. That’s the biggest area of his game and we knew it would be the toughest challenge for him in making the adjustment from Ashland to the NFL. It’s preparation, going back having a good Wednesday, having a good Thursday, and he understood what was going on, is there pieces moved, he processed a little bit faster than the week before and took a step that way." 

Bears grades: Dominant win generates straight A's for offense, defense

Bears grades: Dominant win generates straight A's for offense, defense

QUARTERBACKS: A

Mitchell Trubisky completed 25 of 32 passes for 271 yards with a touchdown and a passer rating of 112.4, and also rushed for a touchdown on a read option in the third quarter. It was easily his best game as a pro; beyond his impressive stat line, the offense had a different feel to it on Sunday than it did in any of the previous eight games Trubisky started. Trubisky was calm and comfortable in the pocket, and did well to click through his progressions and remain patient for his receivers to get open. He perhaps could’ve been more accurate on a pass to Adam Shaheen in the end zone in the second quarter that was broken up by safety William Jackson, and he took a sack with about 20 seconds left in the first half that he shouldn’t have taken. But those feels like nitpicking after such a strong overall afternoon. 

RUNNING BACKS: A+

Jordan Howard exerted his will on a banged-up, uninspired Bengals defense, rushing 23 times for 147 yards with two touchdowns. Howard ran tough, or in his own words: “I feel like I got back to my violent ways a little bit.” Tarik Cohen provided a spark with 80 yards on 12 carries, too, combining with Howard for 227 rushing yards. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: A-

Kendall Wright caught 10 of his 11 targets for 107 yards and consistently got open in a way no Bears receiver had up to this point. Josh Bellamy provided an early spark, with his two receptions for 52 yards coming on the Bears’ first three drives.  Strangely, Dontrelle Inman — who had shown the best and most reliable connection with Trubisky over the last few weeks — was not targeted. But Wright’s huge day was enough to prop this unit up with its highest grade of the season. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Shaheen caught four of his five targets for 44 yards and a touchdown, and drew a pass interference flag in the end zone too. Dion Sims and Daniel Brown combined for four catches on five targets for 41 yards, too, and Sims in particular did some good things in the run blocking game to pave the way for Howard and Cohen. Shaheen still had a few blocking issues, but his contributions in the passing game — like his 16-yard reception on a fourth-and-three play — more than covered for them. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: A-

There were still too many penalties (four) on this group, but the run blocking was solid — even without Kyle Long — and one of the two Bengals’ sacks was more the fault of Trubisky than the offensive line. The Bears averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and this unit had plenty to do with it.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

The absences of Eddie Goldman and Mitch Unrein were noticeable in this unit, and the Bengals were able to make sure Akiem Hicks (one tackle) didn’t make much of an impact. But Roy Robertson-Harris did notch a sack, and as with every other defensive unit, this grade is boosted by the Bengals managing only seven points and 234 yards on 53 plays (4.4 yards/play). 

LINEBACKERS: A-

Danny Trevathan led the Bears with 10 tackles and broke up a pass, while Nick Kwiatkoski broke up a pair of passes as well. And the Bears’ ragtag group of outside linebackers — missing Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young — turned in two sacks, with Lamarr Houston and Howard Jones accounting for those two. 

SECONDARY: A

Kyle Fuller had another outstanding game, with Pro Football Focus putting together these numbers:

Eddie Jackson picked off a deflected pass and impressively stripped A.J. Green near the sideline for a fumble the Bears recovered. What kept this unit from an A+ was Deon Bush getting beat by Brandon LaFell on a corner route for the Bengals’ only touchdown of the game. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

Mike Nugent missed a PAT — his first kick in a Bears uniform — but rebounded to connect on a pair of chip-shot field goals from 34 and 27 yards. Cohen admitted he was a little too passive in not fielding some punts, which led to the Bears being backed up a couple of tomes. And John Timu and Marcus Cooper were both guilty of holding penalties on returns, with Cooper’s coming on a punt on which Cohen called for a fair catch. 

COACHING: B

Give John Fox and Dowell Loggains some credit for opening up the Bears’ offense and scheming to expand, not maintain, a lead in the second half. Still, why Fox challenged a play on which Trubisky clearly threw beyond the line of scrimmage was a head-scratcher, and the Bears were heavily penalized (10 for 74 yards), though the play of both the offense and defense was enough to cover for that sloppiness.