After Ryan Pace traded picks to move up in the draft and select Mitch Trubisky second overall, the Bears’ GM wisely moved down in the second round and recouped some of the draft capital lost in the Trubisky deal.
The Bears used one of those picks to roll the dice on Adam Shaheen, a tight end who dominated Division II with size, speed, and playmaking ability. Shaheen’s rookie season didn’t go all that well, but a fresh start in a new offense might unlock his potential.
Tom Thayer jumps into the film room to take a look at some plays Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy could bring along with him from Kansas City, including two that prominently use the tight end:
The first play Thayer breaks down is highlighted by quarterback Alex Smith motioning tight end Travis Kelce to get a read on the kind of coverage (man or zone) based on how defensive players align. After the snap, Kelce gets leverage on his defender and successfully clears space for slot receiver Tyreek Hill to operate underneath. Hill, who gets a clean release on the other side of the formation, comes across the formation and enters Smith’s line of vision to make an uncontested catch. From there, Hill picks up more than 40 yards after the catch because Kelce cleared part of the field and Smith was patient going through his progressions.
Several things must happen for this particular play to work effectively in 2018 with a different cast.
Nagy and Offensive Coordinator Mark Helfrich must deploy Shaheen as a receiver more often than Dowell Loggains did in 2017. Of the four tight ends the Bears used last season, Shaheen’s 73 passing snaps were the fewest. Yes, that’s fewer passing snaps than Daniel Brown (who didn’t see the field until Week 8), Zach Miller (who missed the final eight games of the season), and Dion Sims (whose receiving grade ranked 45th of 60 qualifying tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus).
This play works because Kelce – arguably the NFL’s best tight end and undoubtedly the Chiefs’ most important player – is a threat defenses must account for in the passing game. Kelce’s 2.33 yards per route run from the slot was the most among tight ends with at least 100 slot route runs, according to PFF. Again, Shaheen didn’t even run 100 total routes in 2017.
Shaheen also needs to take a leap in his development. He’ll need to come into camp with a strong understanding of Nagy’s playbook. From there, he’ll have to apply what he learned into practice snaps during offseason training activities. This won’t be an easy task, but it’s one Shaheen must be up to conquer if he’s going to live up to that second-round billing.
If Jordan Howard proves to be an effective rusher for a third straight season, play action passes could be present big-play opportunities for the Bears offense.
On the second play Thayer analyzes, the play action fake is sold on multiple levels, but the biggest bites come because Kelce immediately sells out to block, only to shed the defender and run into the open field. Kelce is in an advantageous position as he breaks behind the second level of the defense (which has its eyes in the backfield after the play fake) and in front of the third level, which is occupied trying to keep two receivers from getting behind them. This leaves the quarterback with a wide-open window to hit Kelce for a big play.
In a small sample, Shaheen flashed the ability to make big blocks, come down with contested catches, and be the kind of red zone threat Mitch Trubisky can rely on. The Bears didn’t get into the red zone often enough (in part because they ran the second lowest volume of plays) and it suppressed any production Shaheen could have brought to the table. But with a new brain-trust calling plays, things can be different for Shaheen and the Bears offense altogether.