John Fox’s coaching staff was bashed for not getting the ball to rookie tight end Adam Shaheen enough, but that doesn’t figure on changing much under Matt Nagy. Shaheen played just over 24% of the snaps last year. That number should increase in 2018, provided he can beat out Dion Sims as the starting in-line tight end. But if the moves this team has recently made turn out the way they think, it’s hard to see Shaheen catching a lot of passes in 2018.
Trey Burton & Friends
He’s not much of a blocker, but the Bears signed Burton to be their top tight end. The Bears made him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the league. That’s not happening if they don’t expect him to play nearly every snap.
Burton’s signing alone didn’t indicate a smaller role for Shaheen. The club also invested heavily at receiver by paying Allen Robinson star money, Taylor Gabriel starter money and trading a 2019 second rounder to draft Anthony Miller with the 51st pick. Not only did the Bears spend a high pick on Miller, but they reportedly tried to move back up into the end of the first round to draft Calvin Ridley.
Their aggressiveness at the position is a strong indication that they’re going to have three receivers on the field quite a bit. Not a surprise. In his time in Kansas City, Matt Nagy’s offenses rarely utilized the second tight end. Over the past five years, KC’s second tight end averaged just 5.6% of the team’s targets — 29 per season. This is about the same as the fourth wide receiver. The third receivers came in at 9.2%.
The total snap counts are a bit more even with the second tight ends averaging 48% while the third and fourth receivers come in at 45 and 35. Of course, when Reid got to KC, their receivers were awful. They didn’t even have three good receivers to play. Over the last three years, the third receiver has played 45% of the snaps, compared to 42% for second tight ends and 35% for fourth receivers.
Even those numbers are a bit misleading. Only once did the team play the second tight end more than 50% of the snaps, whereas the third receiver numbers are bogged down by 2014 when the third-leading receiver played just 25% of the time. Also consider that the offense typically rotates four receiver positions, so the amount of time they have three on the field, with one tight end, is lopsided.
In 2014 KC’s second tight end — Anthony Fasano — played 67% of the snaps, but he still only got 36 targets.
Philadelphia runs the same offense and did throw to Burton 60 times in 2016, but like when Reid first arrived in Kansas City, the Eagles didn’t have good receivers. That shouldn’t be the case for the Bears this year. Even so, only about 15% of Philadelphia’s passes came with more than one tight end on the field, according to ESPN. KC was at a similar number in 2016. ESPN’s formation data for 2017 is not yet available.
The Eagles had a combined 55 targets to Burton and Brent Celek in 2017 too, but 16 of those came in games Zach Ertz missed. Outside of those games, they combined to average just three targets per game.
So where does that leave Shaheen?
Probably in pretty close to the same spot he was in late last season. Shaheen played about 43% of his snaps in his last seven games and had 13 targets in those games. He’ll likely be closer to 50% of the snaps and average at least three targets per game. However it must also be noted that Sims is one of the 20 highest-paid tight ends in the league, a contract the Bears could’ve gotten out of, but chose not to. A curious decision for a team that doesn’t use two tight ends that often, much less three.
Ryan Pace isn’t going to — and shouldn’t — give up on the player he took with the 45th pick in the 2017 draft. The expectation is that Shaheen is going to still be a good player for the Bears. When asked about the second-year tight end by Dave Kaplan Pace noted his blocking before adding that he needs to improve as a receiver — not something a lot of fans want to acknowledge.
When he was drafted, fans wanted to compare Shaheen to Rob Gronkowski. Gronk might be the best tight end in the history of the league and Shaheen just doesn’t have the speed and athleticism to make that kind of impact as a receiver. Shaheen is more likely to have a career like Fasano than Gronk, which certainly isn’t an insult. He was a perfect fit for the offense of John Fox. Matt Nagy’s offense requires more athleticism.
Shaheen will be on the field in the red zone, short yardage situations and probably often on early downs. He’s still a match-up nightmare and one the Bears will surely take advantage of. If he’s going to be a big part of the offense, however, he’s going to have to out-perform a player whom the Bears and the new coaching staff invested in heavily.