"The jump in competition will be substantial." That is a phrase you will find from NFL Media scout Lance Zeirlein when describing Adam Shaheen, star tight end out of Ashland and the best D2 product in this year's NFL Draft.
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Unfortunately, that stigma of competitive differences is applied to all players that do not go to an SEC or Big Ten school as those conferences are "better" than the rest. Well, after speaking with Adam Shaheen, I am here to tell you that the difference in competition will be no hurdle this dominant force cannot overcome.
Shaheen's journey to the NFL Draft has been a little unorthodox, which might be why he has become such an interesting prospect across the league. For the first year of his college eligibility, the former star football and basketball player from Big Walnut High in Geneva, Ohio played basketball at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown due to the fact no football programs offered any scholarships to play at the next level.
"In high school, I was only about 6-4 and 200 pounds," Shaheen described of his younger self. "At the time no schools really gave me looks to play football, but I received a full-ride from UPJ and went with it, thinking basketball was the right choice."
By no means was basketball the wrong choice for Shaheen, but the desire to play football still burned inside. The fire did not blaze completely though until watching an Ohio State football game.
"That fall in my freshman year I went to an Ohio State game and I decided right there that I wanted to play football again," Shaheen said. "I knew nobody would offer me, so I contacted my high school coach to see what he could figure out."
After going through the process of figuring out options for the basketball player to become the football player, Shaheen was presented with opportunities at both Ashland, and Ohio Dominican, two local schools from where the tight end is from.
Once at Ashland, Shaheen had to work on filling out his body to prepare for the tight end position again. After playing the spot in high school at the previously mentioned 200 pounds, Shaheen was determined to get stronger to handle the step up in competition.
"During my redshirt-freshman year of 2014, I got myself to bulk up and put on some poundage to play tight end," Shaheen said. "They wanted me to play tight end all along, so I knew I had to get myself ready for the needs of that position."
Over the next three seasons with the Eagles, the former hoops star became not only the best tight end across Division II, but also one of the best across the entire NCAA for his prowess as a pass-catcher.
Totaling 129 catches, 1,755 receiving yards and 26 scores in his three seasons (two as a starter), Shaheen also set national highs across all divisions in catches (70, 2015) and touchdowns (16, 2016) in his two years as the full time starter at the position.
So with all of the stats, All-American honors, awards, and success both personal and individual, it was still surprising to see Shaheen declare early for the NFL Draft. Not because Shaheen is not a draftable player, but because no D2 player has declared early for the draft in recent memory — if not ever.
"After the season, I talked with my family and some close friends and decided it was time for me to do this, to put my foot in the door," Shaheen told HERO. "I had been in school for four years, and knew that another year of play at a D2 school would not change the sentiment surrounding D2 players when they enter the draft."
After the news of his decision wore off, the training for the Combine, pro days, draft visits all began in earnest as he prepared to have the biggest job interview of his life.
At the NFL Combine in March, Shaheen posted some of the best numbers in the tight end group, finishing right around the middle of the pack in most major categories, but impressing most with his speed at 4.79 in the 40-yard dash, a gem at the size Shaheen is currently at (278 pounds).
"I think my speed is definitely a big part of my game, but I'm more proud of my abilities to catch the ball and do what I need to do to help out the team," Shaheen detailed on his game.
With just a week-and-change before the Draft gets going in Philadelphia next week, Shaheen is rounding out his pre-draft visits with interested teams and preparing for the night his name gets called.
So far, Shaheen said said he had visits "with all 32 teams, either at the combine, pro day or for their pre-draft visits." But the most interested teams seem to be the Cowboys, Broncos, and many other teams that hold early-to-middle picks in the second round.
When asking Shaheen if he has an idea where he may be picked, he responded with the traditional answer of "I don't care, I just want to get an opportunity to play." But he did also add that his agent has told him all it takes is for "one team to fall in love with you."
Right now, it looks like that is going to be in the second round based on buzz going around the scouting community from sources such as CBS and NFL Media. Shaheen would be the first D2 player picked that high in the draft since former North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins was picked in the early second round by the Rams in 2012.
Shaheen was also adamant that he has no favored destination when he is drafted, adding "I just want to go where someone will give me the best opportunity to play."
Draft night will consist of an at-home party for the former walk-on, with closest family and friends in attendance. "I just want it to be about family," Shaheen said. "I don't need all the cameras, glitz, and stuff. I just want to be at home and experience that with my family."
As for when Shaheen hears his name called over ESPN or the NFL Network, he described the moment as "something I don't really know about yet. I could be jumping and screaming or I could be crying and unable to speak. I just don't know yet how I will react."
All Shaheen needs is an opportunity, and there are 32 teams waiting to give him one.