Lee Owens has coached at Division II Ashland since 2004, but before that, he was a head coach at Akron and an offensive line assistant at Ohio State.
During those two stops, Owens coached 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jason Taylor and 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Orlando Pace. And, as a side note, in 2007 Owens hired Matt LaFleur to be Ashland’s offensive coordinator. A decade later, LaFleur is now the offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams.
Can Adam Shaheen, the hulking 6-foot-6, 278 pound second-round pick of the Bears, follow in those others’ footsteps?
“His ceiling for greatness is unbelievable,” Owens said.
The Bears made a bold move in taking a Division II tight end who didn’t have any scholarship offers coming out of high school and played basketball for a year before getting the itch to return to football. But perhaps the more surprising part of Shaheen’s selection with the 45th pick was that he had college eligibility remaining.
While the best players at college football’s top level frequently turn pro with a year left, that’s not the case in Division II.
“It’s kind of unheard of,” Owens said. “I don’t remember any cases at all.”
Shaheen impressed those who watched him across the NFL — Bears area scout Jeff Shiver was “pounding the table” for Shaheen, general manager Ryan Pace said — because of the way he moves for someone of his size. His basketball background makes him a natural at “boxing out” in the end zone, where he’s adept at positioning himself to beat opposing defenders.
Todd McShay said a scout texted him raving about Shaheen last October, which tipped off the ESPN draft analyst to watch his tape. And that film study led to this conclusion: “He’s the real deal.”
“Now the level of competition, I get it, and it was very clear that he was just kind of manhandling some guys,” McShay said on a conference call Sunday. “But he, at 278 pounds, has good speed, very athletic, very good hands, does a great job on contested throws, can run after the catch and I just think he’s got a chance to be an impact starter.
“… I like the pick. You got a young quarterback who at some point who in (Mitch) Trubisky who will take over and now you give him a young security blanket to grow old with, if you will.”
While Shaheen will have to deal with a significant step up in competition, one thing Owens noted is that Ashland runs a pro-style offense. That means Shaheen isn’t totally foreign to the blocking assignments required of him at the NFL level, an area of his game that probably will need the most growth going forward.
“Is he as polished as he needs to be? Absolutely not,” Owens said. “I would love to have him for another year. He’s made great strides in the two years he’s played. And it’s not a case of him not being able to do it, but he needs more work. He’s plenty strong, he’s plenty big, and he’s got a great base and great feet and he’s not afraid of contact, so I don’t question his ability to get better and better at that.”
From a personality standpoint, Owens lauded Shaheen’s maturity and how he handles both success and pressure. And the guy who saw Pace and Taylor in college sounds convinced his latest player to make it to the NFL was well worth a top-50 draft pick.
“All those kind of things make you a great pro, Adam obviously has that,” Owens said. “I look long-term and I see him playing a long time and having an unbelievable career.”