Expect this year’s crop of rookie draft picks to play important roles in the Chicago Bears offense from the get-go, which includes Adam Shaheen, Tarik Cohen and, potentially, Mitch Trubisky.
Having had the opportunity to view the Chicago Bears offense participate in practice six times the past month — nine including rookie minicamp — the best way to describe the team’s 2017 receiving corps is underwhelming.
There are some young players with promise, including Cameron Meredith, Markus Wheaton and Kevin White, yet as a whole, it’s doubtful Chicago’s receivers will be keeping opposing defensive coordinators awake at night during the regular season.
If the Bears receivers fail to produce at a consistent level and no one emerges as a reliable No. 1 target, of which there is a strong possibility, then offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will have to utilize alternative options to push the ball down the field.
To that end, expect Loggains to deploy a plethora of two- and three-tight-end sets this season, utilizing a deep position that features newcomer Dion Sims, established veteran Zach Miller and a promising young rookie in Adam Shaheen.
Miller has not practiced this off-season but the team expects him back by the start of training camp. Still, there are reasons for concern with Miller, an oft-injured 32-year-old coming off his second foot surgery of the past three years.
Sims is only 26 and has developed into a quality all-around tight end but he’s coming off a career-high 26 catches, so it’s still unclear whether he can ascend to a 50- or 60-catch player.
While there are certainly question marks regarding Sims and Miller, it’s clear to me that Shaheen is the real deal. Throughout rookie minicamp, OTAs and veteran minicamp, Shaheen was the most consistent pass catcher on the field. His mammoth size (6-7, 280) makes him a huge target over the middle and allows him to absorb contact while making catches in traffic.
In addition, Shaheen is highly athletic and doesn’t have the stiffness one might expect from a player that big. He has fluid hips and good burst out of his breaks, while he’s also demonstrated good awareness in beating zone coverage.
“He has a lot of upside,” said teammate Jerrell Freeman. “I mean you see him out here catching fade balls and wreaking havoc there on the inside. He has a lot of intangibles. He has a lot of upside. I think he’s going to be a pretty good guy.”
If his practice performances translate to game days, Shaheen will quickly become a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. That should be evident in the red zone immediately, where Loggains would be wise to utilize his biggest receiver.
Shaheen is going to share reps with the veterans but I expect he’ll be the primary pass-catching tight end come season’s end, particularly if first-round QB Mitch Trubisky sees action as a rookie, as those two have already developed a strong connection.
In addition to Shaheen, expect fourth-round RB Tarik Cohen to make a strong impact in 2017 as well.
Cohen is, by far, the quickest, fastest player I’ve ever seen up close. His burst and elusiveness are off the charts, which makes him nearly impossible to corral in the open field. Every time he touches the ball, Cohen is a threat to take it to the house. Those types of players are often quick to earn playing time.
“He’s like a human joystick out there,” said Freeman. “Just get him in the open field and he’s dangerous. Really dangerous.”
The Bears already have a bruising workhorse back in Jordan Howard but the 5-6 Cohen brings an entirely different skill set and has demonstrated outstanding hands out of the backfield.
For those reasons, I expect Cohen to be Chicago’s third-down running back come Week 1, spelling Howard in obvious passing situations. In addition, don’t be surprised if Cohen serves as the club’s primary kick or punt returner in 2017.
Bears GM Ryan Pace made a considerable investment in Trubisky and then used the rest of the draft to put pieces around around his new franchise passer, which also includes fifth-round OL Jordan Morgan. Yet Trubisky isn’t expected to play much this season, if at all.
Instead, it will be “Baby Gronk” and “The Human Joystick”, Pace’s ancillary pieces, that will boost Chicago’s offense in 2017. Based on what I’ve seen from these two playmaking rookies, that should create a lot of excitement for Bears fans, both this year and beyond.