Adam Shaheen: The NFL Draft's Most Mysterious Man

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 20, 2017

Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

You might know him as the Chipotle guy.

You don't know who he is or where he came from, and you might not even know what position he plays. You can't remember his name—Andrew? Aaron? Adam? Adam! Adam Something!—but you know he made headlinesa lot of headlines—at the NFL Scouting Combine when, asked how he gained 70-odd pounds in college, he smirked and chalked it up to good-old American fast food. 

"Um, a lot of Chipotle burritos," he quipped

They laughed, and so did he. 

"No," he added, getting semi-serious. "In all honesty, it was a lot of burritos."

The obscure draft prospect did elaborate, noting that consistency in the weight room was also essential to gaining the bulk he was displaying for all 32 NFL teams at the league's annual predraft showcase, but that second clause was buried by the first one. 

Whoever this guy was—wait, his combine-issued sweatshirt says TE! He must be a tight end, so we're making progress!—he hadn't yet been turned into a platitude-dispensing robot. A league-certified handler didn't amputate his personality the day he declared for the draft. There must have been some sort of mistake. 

That such a simple, candid comment generated such a vast reaction is probably an indictment on the sports media as well as a system that trains pro and soon-to-be-pro athletes to say as little as possible, but as the most colorful quote of the combine, it worked both for and against Adam Whatshisname. 

On one hand, it exposed the hulking, burrito-endorsing tight end to a larger audience. On the other hand, it served as somewhat of a red herring, distracting from his many football and non-football traits that actually mattered.

The New England Patriots' official website called him "the Chipotle prospect." But when a team wants to draft him on April 27, 28 or 29, the employee in charge of handing in the draft card might want to consider looking up his actual given name, surname and school. 

That name is Adam Shaheen—it was on the tip of your tongue, right?—and he hails from Ashland, a mid-sized private university in a Northeast Ohio town of the same name, which carries the moniker "The World Headquarters of Nice People." That means it'll probably forgive you for having never heard of its school's football program, which in its history has produced three NFL draft picks. 

Shaheen is from nearby Sunbury, Ohio, but he'll still probably forgive you for having never heard of him, even if you'd heard of the Chipotle prospect. After all, he isn't coming out of the SEC, the Big Ten or the Pac-12. He's straight out of the GLIAC (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). And although by all measures he's the top Division II prospect in this year's draft, he's still a Division II prospect in this year's draft—one rich with blue-chip tight ends. 

As I wrote this in mid-April, I became Shaheen's 847th follower on Twitter. The top two tight end prospects in this class, O.J. Howard and David Njoku, have over 45,000 combined followers

So it's time to get to know the man behind the possible burrito addiction. Who is Adam Shaheen?

      

Adam Shaheen is a very big man

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

He didn't used to be so big, hence the whole Chipotle thing. But after making steady gains during his three-year tenure at Ashland, Shaheen enters the draft as the largest tight end prospect in his class at 6'6", 278 pounds. 

When he's drafted—and the latest mock draft from Bleacher Report's Matt Miller projects he'll be a third-round pick—he'll immediately become the NFL's second-largest tight end, smaller only than Darren Fells of the Detroit Lions (6'7", 281 pounds). 

"It doesn't look like I'm carrying 275," Shaheen told Bleacher Report. "I carry it well, which is why I think it only helps."

See for yourself...

The numbers don't lie, either. It's no surprise that Shaheen tied for first among tight ends at the combine with 24 bench press reps—although he points out he did 27 and "they knocked three off"—but only six participants at that position fared better in the broad jump, and he performed better in the three-cone drill than four tight end prospects who weighed at least 14 fewer pounds than him. 

According to Football Perspective, Shaheen's weight-adjusted time in the 40-yard dash ranked 26th among 243 participants. 

So he could maintain that weight at the NFL level. He managed to do so while scoring 16 touchdowns last season at Ashland, and teams have been asking if he'd be comfortable carrying that weight as a pro. 

His answer, of course, is something along the lines of "Hell yeah." Like most prospects, Shaheen is willing to do whatever is asked of him by his next employer. 

"If a team wants me to drop 10 pounds and play at around 265, that's fine," he said. "But I don't think many will want me to put on any weight."

Not unless they want him to move to center, no. 

           

Adam Shaheen used to be a much smaller man

Shaheen was a tall, lanky receiver in high school.
Shaheen was a tall, lanky receiver in high school.Courtesy of Ziad Shaheen

At the start of Shaheen's college career, he was neither a big man nor a football player nor an Ashland student. When he graduated from high school in 2013, his only scholarship offer came from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and it was to play basketball. 

That fall and winter, a 205-pound Shaheen averaged 13.2 minutes, 5.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 26 games as a true freshman forward in the Pennsylvania State Athletics Conference, although Pitt-Johnstown head basketball coach Bob Rukavina says Shaheen could have played anywhere.

"He did everything," Rukavina recalled. "For a guy his height, he could do a lot of things on the basketball court. He could drive the ball, he was a great rebounder and he could shoot the three. And he was getting better."

That versatility and athleticism revealed itself in games, where Shaheen would spend a half covering a guard and another half covering a center. Rukavina remembers him shutting down both. And the aggressiveness that has helped make him a great football player manifested itself in practices, where teammates would have to tell him to ease up. 

"He was definitely the most athletic big man we've ever had," Rukavina added. "He would run sprints and beat the guards, outjump everybody and outmuscle everybody."

Rukavina believes Shaheen could have at least made a living playing basketball professionally overseas.

"Adam could have been one of the best players [Pitt-Johnstown] ever had," Shaheen's father, Ziad, told Bleacher Report. "Whether that would have translated to the next level or not, I don't know."

                

From power forward to tight end

Courtesy of Ziad Shaheen

Of course, we'll never know. Because Shaheen had somewhat of an epiphany early in his freshman year at Pitt-Johnstown. It hit him on a weekend back home, when he and his dad attended an Ohio State football game against Wisconsin. 

Shaheen, who had played safety as well as wide receiver in high school, missed football. He missed hitting guys and/or being hit. He spent the rest of the 2013-14 school year at Pitt-Johnstown, but he had begun to realize he preferred the big-team camaraderie associated with football, and that he'd rather train by lifting weights than by taking 300 consecutive jump shots. 

"He told me what he enjoyed doing the most, and I said, 'Then go do it,'" recalled Ziad Shaheen. "But to be clear, at that time we weren't thinking NFL or NBA."

Rukavina remembers being blindsided when getting a call from Shaheen that spring. His promising soon-to-be sophomore forward craved more physicality, pined for another sport. Coach tried to talk him out of it. "He didn't go for it," said Rukavina, "but he clearly made the right decision."

So in the fall of 2014, Shaheen enrolled at Ashland, just 60-odd miles from home. No scholarship, just a walk-on seeking contact. He and Ziad sat down with Ashland head football coach Lee Owens and essentially presented Owens with a plan for how Adam would adopt a strict gym regimen, get bigger and eventually earn a key role on the roster. 

"But that happens so often when we recruit players," Owens told B/R. "Every once in a while it all works out. The plan we all had for Adam ended up being the right one, and he was able to get bigger and stronger and more explosive and turned into a great NFL prospect."

Of course, that didn't happen overnight. Nobody masters a new position as an undersized college sophomore, and Shaheen had a lot to learn. 

"He didn't know how to block," Ashland tight ends coach Reggie Gamble said. "Learning tight end in any offense, and in particular our offense, is a challenge. Him being as intelligent as he was helped him a ton. He was able to pick up things fairly quickly."

Playing behind two seniors that year, Shaheen watched and learned. He caught just two passes all season, but Operation Get Big kicked into gear while Shaheen was living with his dad in Columbus the ensuing spring and summer. 

A Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant is seen in Washington, DC, December 22, 2015. Chipotle shares tumbled on news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating an outbreak of E. coli that may be unrelated to a previous one in
SAUL LOEB/Getty Images

He really did ride his bike to the nearest Chipotle Mexican Grill on South High Street every day, but that was only a small part of it. In fact, his daily burrito typically served as his second lunch—one of five meals he'd consume each day, not including three shakes (protein in the morning and before bed, as well as a weight-gainer after his daily workout). He also cut out junk food, worked out 10 times per week and got a lot of help from Mother Nature. 

"Everybody says, 'Wow, he really worked hard and he did what he needed to do from a diet and conditioning standpoint to put that weight on and make that transformation once he made the decision to play football,'" said Ziad. "But what most people don't know or talk about is he actually hit puberty really late. He hit puberty when he was 19 or 20 versus 15 or 16. And that's something I don't think everybody recognizes. As he was getting that urge to go back and play football and he was trying to make that decision and he was talking to me about it, he was just hitting puberty for the first time."

He returned for his second season at 240 pounds. That year, he led all college tight ends with 70 receptions while scoring 10 touchdowns. After rinsing and repeating last summer, he was up above 270 pounds. And yet his yards-per-catch average rose from 11.5 to 15.2. His 16 touchdowns in 2016 tied for the No. 1 total in the nation from a tight end. 

             

Basketball-tight end connection

Shaheen isn't the first basketball player to make a successful transition to football tight end. Tony Gonzalez was a power forward at the University of California, Antonio Gates played the same position at Kent State, and Julius Thomas, Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron all played college ball. 

It's just natural, according to Owens, who notes that basketball players "know how to use their bodies, they've got great hand-eye coordination, they come from a physical sport and they're athletic."

"So to me it was a no-brainer, looking at [Adam's] body," added Owens. "And once we got him in the weight room and got him on a full diet of Chipotle, he was ready to go."

Courtesy of Ziad Shaheen

"You really have to have that athleticism in basketball," said Shaheen. "And I was a guy that went up for alley-oops, so I definitely think that helped me with catching the ball, coordination, being able to move my body in different ways and translating those skills to football."

Shaheen does feel as though there's a perception that football players with basketball backgrounds might be inclined to shy away from contact, and he says he's been asked by NFL coaches if he's a guy who looks to "stick your head into somebody's chest and blow them off the ball." 

Again, he says he is, and the tape appears to back that up. 

"He was always an aggressive, physical kid," said Gamble. "You see that when you go back and watch his basketball clips. An aggressive player's an aggressive player no matter the sport. And those things translated well, along with the soft hands and good feet and body control. Add in the weight and the technique and the commitment to be a better blocker, and it added up to him being a pretty good football player."

           

The Chipotle NFL tight end?

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The pressure is on Shaheen now in a multitude of ways.

For starters, he's carrying a school you've never heard of on his shoulders. Nobody from Ashland has been drafted earlier than the seventh round, and Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Jamie Meder is the only active NFLer who played college football there. 

If a prospect from a big football school like Ohio State doesn't cut it at the NFL level, few on campus notice. Shaheen doesn't get that luxury at Ashland. He has the ability to put his school and his community on more maps, which for many would be as terrifying as it is exciting.

"It's a glorified high school in that you see everybody pretty much every day," said Shaheen. "You establish a lot of personal relationships, and you want to represent not only yourself but your small school in the best way possible."

And then there's the hype outside of Ashland County. Owens thinks Shaheen might be the greatest tight end ever to play Division II college football, and draft experts have caught on.

"Shaheen's tape almost looks like a video game," ESPN's Todd McShay wrote in a recent mock draft. "He practically ran over opposing defenses with a size/speed combination you rarely see at the TE position."

"He's clearly the third-best tight end in this year's class, and I think you'll start to hear first-round buzz about him by the time his workout is finished," an unnamed executive told NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah in February. "It's hard to find tight ends with his combination of size, speed and toughness. He's a unique talent."

"It's not crazy to see some Rob Gronkowski here," wrote Miller in his tight end rankings. 

Shaheen has met privately with nearly a dozen teams in the lead-up to the draft, and representatives from all 32 franchises stopped by Ashland to get a look at him in the fall (some more than once). According to Zac Jackson of The Athletic, "about 15 teams" were in attendance to see Shaheen at Ashland's pro day. 

Again, this is a school that has a 6,000-seat stadium. 

That's a lot to deal with, but there isn't much Shaheen can do at this stage. Game tape and workout results speak for themselves, and he's already spent hours on the whiteboard. 

It probably helps that he's an Academic All-American, but he admits there's work to do. 

"A lot of it is technical, as well as dealing with a much bigger playbookunderstanding schemes and reads and calls," said Shaheen regarding his learning curve. "That's really going to be the biggest jump."

But the very fact he's played a regular tight end role for only two years at a small D-II school is likely also intriguing a lot of front offices. 

Adam Shaheen's 2016 game log
DateOpponentRECYDSTD
9/1Mercyhurst7890
9/10Wayne St. (Mich.)4961
9/17Findlay7902
9/24at Ferris St.71521
10/1at Tiffin101653
10/8Northwood71094
10/15at Lake Erie2531
10/22at Ky. Wesleyan2210
10/29at Michigan Tech4261
11/5Walsh4272
11/12at Ohio Dominican3391
Total5786716
GLIAC.org

"The reality is his ceiling is a lot higher than most," said Owens. "He's not even close to reaching his potential in terms of the type of player he's going to be." 

It sounds as though he's well aware of that, so while Ziad Shaheen notes that his son isn't "taking it so seriously that he can't enjoy the experience"—and the Chipotle comment is indicative of that—he also suggests that Adam possesses that "never satisfied" characteristic so many great athletes share.

"If he ends up in the second round he's going to be pissed he wasn't drafted in the first round. If he ends up in third, he'll be upset he wasn't drafted in the second or first," said Ziad. "Wherever it is, he's going to want to prove people wrong."

That mentality could help Shaheen become an NFL star, and the comment that catapulted him into the draft zeitgeist could increase his Q rating. Chipotle has already reached out, sending Shaheen a care package along with a note that states it's following him. His agent has been in touch. 

"The Chipotle NFL tight end" has a nicer ring to it than "The Chipotle prospect." 

"That'd be cool," said Shaheen of a potential endorsement deal. But his focus remains on the draft, and on maintaining that big body. 

"If they can't endorse me," he told his dad after receiving the package, "I at least want the VIP card."

          

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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