All the hype around the Chicago Bears tight ends this off-season has been focused on Philly-Special star, Trey Burton. However, the recent focus on Burton has left last year’s second-round pick, Adam Shaheen, disregarded. This is a folly for Bears’ fans, as Shaheen may be a better breakout candidate than Burton, especially with Matt Nagy leading the offense.
The arrival of Burton has placed the spotlight on him, and he has been highlighted by many analysts as a great breakout candidate. However, they have forgotten that Shaheen is still on the Bears, and is also a very talented tight end, just one year removed from being one of the Bears’ most hyped up players in training camp.
Last season, Shaheen struggled through injuries and John Fox’s anemic offense, stunting his development. Nonetheless, he still showed strides towards the end of the season. In games against the Lions and Bengals, in Weeks 11 and 14, Shaheen showed noticeable improvement. In these two games, Shaheen averaged 4 receptions, 42.5 yards, and 1 touchdown. While the numbers aren’t spectacular, the way Shaheen played allowed people to see some of his potential.
Coming out of Ashland, Shaheen was a physical freak, but very raw. Despite what looked like signs of dominance in OTAs and training camp, Shaheen couldn’t put it together in games, struggling to get on the field due to his inconsistency in blocking and inability to create separation.
Shaheen’s first touchdown came at the goal line against Pittsburgh in Week three. The gruesome injury to Zach Miller thrust Shaheen onto the field, and he slowly carved out a niche for himself and developed a rapport with Mitch Trubisky, before missing the last three games of the season to a chest injury.
Towards the end of the season, Shaheen again showed improvement in his blocking, created better separation, and displayed his ability to use his body to haul in tough catches. For a more in-depth analysis of Shaheen’s improvement, look here. Shaheen has built a solid foundation for himself but must continue to work on refining his route running and blocking skills this off-season. Dion Sims is still on the roster, and will still be the Bears’ best run-blocking tight end unless Shaheen shows improvement in this area.
Burton and Shaheen will both co-exist in the Bears’ new high-octane offense. Although they are both listed as tight ends, Burton is a “U” tight-end, whereas Shaheen is a “Y” tight end. The “U” tight-end, or “move” tight-end, plays the role of both a wide receiver and a tight end, much like Aaron Hernandez, Travis Kelce, and Delanie Walker have in previous seasons.
On the other hand, the “Y” tight end is a traditional in-line tight end, playing next to the offensive line. While Burton has gotten most of the attention, since he will fill the “U” tight-end role in Matt Nagy’s offense that Kelce filled in Kansas City, Nagy will have another weapon in Adam Shaheen that doesn’t have an adequate comparison in Kansas City.
Knowing Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, they will exploit both of these match-ups. Expect Shaheen to be the Bears’ biggest red zone threat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him among the Bears’ leaders in touchdowns this year.
Shaheen is a force to be reckoned with in the red zone, as we saw in limited snaps last year. However, Shaheen also moves exceptionally well for such a big tight end, so as he refines his route running, he will create better separation and will be able to create a bigger role as a pass-catcher. I would expect the Bears to exploit Burton’s speed and Shaheen’s big body by putting them both on the field together, allowing both to create mismatches using their skills. Both of them have strengths and weaknesses that offset the other’s, making them ideal complements.
While Burton is a smaller, more agile, receiving tight end, Shaheen is a bigger target, who uses power more than his underrated agility to make plays. By creating match-ups where Burton exploits his speed against slower linebackers and Shaheen exploits his size against smaller defensive backs, the Bears could have a two-headed monster in the tight end room.
In Kansas City, Nagy had a similar big-bodied, ex-basketball-player tight end in Demetrius Harris. Harris was mainly used as a big-bodied target for Alex Smith. Although he isn’t as talented as Shaheen, as he developed, his role grew in the offense as the season progressed. With Shaheen being more talented, he could have a bigger impact than Harris did, not only being a big-bodied receiving target but also having the ability to be a vertical threat. Shaheen thrives when he matches up against smaller defensive backs, and Nagy will exploit this, creating match-ups that favor Shaheen.
Shaheen showed tremendous potential last season, and if wasn’t for a few nagging injuries, he could have had a more productive year. Even if he is playing behind Burton this season, he will have his fair share of opportunities, given the plethora of offensive weapons that the Bears have stockpiled this off-season.
Scouting Matt Nagy’s offense in Kansas City last year shows that he places a high level of importance on the tight ends, and we should expect to see a lot of two tight end sets this season.
As Shaheen continues to develop his run-blocking and route-running skills, he will get more opportunities to contribute on this offense, and could easily create a situation in which he and Burton are co-starters.
With both of them having differing skill-sets, we shouldn’t expect Burton to be the full-time starter, especially when there is another talented tight end in the locker room as well.
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