Chicago Bears: Can Adam Shaheen Blossom Under Matt Nagy?

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 10: Adam Shaheen Chicago Bears
CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 10: Adam Shaheen Chicago Bears /

When the Chicago Bears drafted Adam Shaheen, there were immediate comparisons to Rob Gronkowski.  Could Matt Nagy’s offense be the key to unlocking that potential?

Draft night 2017 offered a number of surprises for fans of the Chicago Bears.  From the unexpected trade up to draft Mitchell Trubisky to the drafting of a number of small school offensive prospects.  One of those prospects, drafted in the second round, was  Adam Shaheen, who immediately drew comparisons from experts and coaches alike to the Patriots perennial Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski.  Now it is up to Matt Nagy to translate that potential into reality.

Unfortunately John Fox and Dowell Loggains were never able to unlock that potential in any real way.  They never could showcase Shaheen’s talents.  Many throughout the league and expert circles couldn’t seem to understand how someone who clearly sparked when given an opportunity couldn’t get more consistent playing time.  But then again, these are the two who confessed to not being able to see Jordan Howard‘s talent prior to him entering a game in relief of Jeremy Langford.  Mind you, that was three games into that season and after an entire off-season program.

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears /

Chicago Bears

The Problem:

Part of the problem was and is that Loggains is infamous for making players play his system.  He doesn’t do a whole lot of tailoring.  He is clearly from the old school coaching mindset that you get the players to fit the system not fit the system to the players you have.  In today’s NFL, you always have to do some tweaking of the scheme to fit the players that you have.  Loggains was criticized in both Tennessee and Chicago by not only the media, but also his own players for failing to adjust.

Shaheen’s skill set is more of a vertical threat type of skill set.  He will be at his best when he is squaring off in the defensive backfield against smaller defensive backs.  Loggains never used him that way.  When he did go out to catch passes, it was almost always in the second level of the defense and not the third.  He was not set up to succeed.

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The Solution:

Coach Nagy, however, is known for quite the opposite.  He has developed a league wide reputation for being able to put his players in positions to succeed.  He used his scheme to highlight Tyreek Hill‘s skill set.  Hill is a shifty undersized receiver who found chinks in the defense’s armor on a regular basis.  That is due to good offensive game planning.

He also took Travis Kelce, a talented but still third round tight end, and upped his production by about 20 catches and 300 yards per season.  At 85 catches for 1,050 yards (his rough average the last two seasons), his production now matches that of a wide receiver more than a tight end.  That isn’t necessarily magic, but it is good coaching.  It’s the kind of coaching that might benefit Shaheen and his game.


Nagy’s West-Coast Offense (WCO) will play well to Shaheen’s strengths.  The designs are going to put him on the outside against corners or beyond the linebackers against the safties.  He shouldn’t be asked to do too much over the middle and inside the linebacker box at this point.  I expect those routes will still go to Dion Sims, assuming that he stays on the roster.  Another possibility is to another more physical tight end yet to be picked up.

Nagy will bring a number of WCO concepts with him to the Bears.  Using bigger bodied tight ends to put pressure on the defensive backfield will be one.  One play that highlights the kind of pressure that we’re talking about is this little gem from the Kansas City playbook:

This play design is a flood to the weak side of the field that puts pressure on the defense to cover all of the possible receivers.  The outside receiver will run a “fly” route and pull the cornerback off in either Man-to-Man or Cover-3 or to hold the safety deep against Cover-2.

The runningback route to the flat is designed to force the outside linebacker to stay shallow in Man-to-Man or against Cover-3 or to keep the cornerback in the flat against Cover-2.  This opens up a hole for the TE just behind the linebackers outside the hash marks . The TE then runs a post route stem to freeze the safety/linebacker (depending on coverage) before cutting to the outside on a flag route which puts him perfectly into the created hole with a ton of space and open ground.

How Does Shaheen Fit?

This is the type of route that Shaheen has excelled at.  Routes that force defensive backs to contend with his size appear to be his niche currently.  That’s not to say that he can’t develop beyond that, but currently this is something in which he excels.  This is where Nagy will make all the difference in the world to him.  Instead of being forced to try to do everything and sitting on the sidelines while he learns how to do it, he’ll be working, playing, and learning while doing what he does well.

But what does this look like in a game?  For that, I’ll refer you to the 23rd second of the below video where you will see the play that has been diagrammed above being run.  The video should start at that mark.

You can almost see Shaheen running that route as it fits his abilities well.  No longer will he have to attempt to figure out how to run in a Loggains styled offense.  Instead Nagy will create plays for him in which he can be himself and play his brand of football.

While he is not as refined at this stage of his career as Travis Kelce, Shaheen offers a very similar playing style.  This means that while expecting him to immediately be Kelce is unreasonable, it is not unreasonable for us to expect production in line with Kelce’s early years. Kelce averaged roughly 70 catches for 870 yards in his first two seasons.

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The Bottom Line:

Coach Nagy chose to coach a team with a very similar set of players to the one that he’s leaving.  Playing the role of Alex Smith is Mitchell Trubisky.  Playing the role of Tyreek Hill is Tarik Cohen.  Standing in for Travis Kelce is Adam Shaheen.  The Bears also posses a strong ground game with the ability to keep defenses from running in the Dime formation (six defensive backs) for large portions of the game.

With some work at the Wide Receiver position, and on the line, there are indications that the Bears could really turn the corner on offense under Nagy.  This will be particularly true as the season progresses and the players become more and more comfortable with and in Nagy’s system.  So while it may not be fair to assume a Kansas City transformation overnight, it is entirely fair to assume that what we see on offense should be vastly improved over what we’ve had to endure over the last two seasons.

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