This is the story of Rashid Shaheed, and it’s not a very original plot. You’ve heard it before — college recruiters and/or NFL scouts overlook (fill in the name of the player here) and then he winds up becoming a star and everybody wonders how they missed out on him. His talent is so obvious. But, then, they missed on Tom Brady too, so …
“I told all the NFL scouts, I guarantee he’ll be ready to be a starting kick returner and he will make a wide receiver coach happy. He’ll play wide receiver in the NFL.” — Jay Hill on his former Weber State receiver Rashid Shaheed
Shaheed played at Weber State. You didn’t know that, did you (and you call yourself a football fan)? Weber State was the only school to offer him a football scholarship. Some 130 FBS schools passed. Then 32 NFL teams did the same thing in the draft.
Shaheed now plays for the New Orleans Saints — who signed him as a free agent in 2022 — and he’s been stating his case as a rising star since he first took the field. After sitting out the first five games last season to recover from a college injury, he made his debut in the sixth game. The first time he touched the ball, he ran 44 yards for a touchdown against the Bengals on a jet sweep. The second time he touched the ball, he caught a 53-yard touchdown pass against the Cardinals.
That’s two touches, two touchdowns, in two weeks.
In a New Year’s Day game against the Super Bowl-bound Eagles, he caught six passes for 79 yards en route to an upset victory.
“None of you guys knew who Rashid Shaheed was when he first showed up, and for him to develop the way that he has, has been outstanding,” head coach Dennis Allen said last January.
Playing in 12 games (six starts), Shaheed finished the 2022 season with 28 catches for 488 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 17.4 yards per catch.
In this year’s season opener, he picked up where he left off by catching five passes for 89 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. Late in the third quarter, with the score tied at 9, the Saints faced a third-and-six at the Titans 19-yard line. Rashid ran a double-move, slow-and-go route and caught the ball in the end zone, scoring the game’s only touchdown and one that proved to be the game winner. Final score: 16-15.
Late in the fourth quarter, nursing a one-point lead, quarterback Derek Carr asked a coach on the bench to “give me another shot” — “throw Rasheed a go (route).” “Yes,” said backup quarterback Jameis Winston, who was listening to the conversation. Moments later Carr approached Shaheed on the sideline and told him, “Be ready if I give you a go route to end this thing.” On third-and-six at their own 33, with 1:55 left in the game, Carr got his wish and completed a game-clinching 41-yard pass to Shaheed.
On a team that includes two established star receivers — Chris Olave, a first-round pick in 2022, and Michael Thomas, former NFL Offensive Player of the Year — Carr and the Saints are trying to find ways to get the ball in the hands of Shaheed, the player who wasn’t drafted.
All of which makes you wonder why so many teams passed on Shaheed. He has decent size — 6 feet, 180 pounds — and blazing speed. Zebra Technologies clocked Shaheed at 21.13 miles per hour during his touchdown against the Cardinals. He reportedly has covered 40 yards in 4.3 seconds. At Weber State, he set an FCS national record by returning seven kickoffs for touchdowns. Shaheed produced 5,478 all-purpose yards. He was named to the FCS All-American team four times.
How did pro scouts miss that?
They didn’t, but the situation was complicated.
Shaheed grew up in San Diego in a family of track and field athletes. His father, Haneef, was a sprinter at Arizona State and his mother was a hurdler at San Diego State. Haneef is a high school track coach. His best sprinter is his daughter, Amirah. Another daughter, Aysha, is a sprinter at Cal. Rashid was a sectional champion in the 200- and 400-meter dashes.
As a prep receiver and running back, he produced 3,748 total yards and 24 touchdowns. He received numerous scholarship offers for track and field, including one from USC, but only one offer for football and it was from Weber State. He had to convince his parents that he wanted to pursue football.
Haneef told ESPN, “If you weigh those two things, track at USC versus football at (an FCS school), as a parent, you kind of look at your kid like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s not even a question. You’re going to USC to run track.’ At the time, (USC) had a phenomenal team, and he just didn’t want to do it.”
He was an instant star at Weber State. In the second game of his (true) freshman season, Shaheed caught four passes for 149 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown catch, in a road game against Cal, an FBS school in the Pac-12. “He was the best player on the field that day,” says Jay Hill, who was the head coach at Weber at the time and is now the defensive coordinator at BYU. “Everyone who played against him knows he’s something special.”
Despite the eye-opening kick returns and big plays on offense, there were concerns about Shaheed’s NFL potential. NFL evaluations are challenging for FCS players because it’s a lower level of college football than the FBS, but Shaheed performed well against all-comers, as Cal found out. He returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Rose Bowl-bound Utah.
The Wildcats were a formidable FCS team in that era, winning 32 games during Shaheed’s first three years on the team and going deep into the playoffs. Four Weber State players from those teams have moved on to become starters in the NFL — besides Shaheed, Sua Opeta of the Eagles, Jonah Williams of the Rams and Taron Johnson of the Bills (only Johnson was drafted).
NFL scouts liked Shaheed’s film, but his overall production was solid, not great. In his best season, he caught 39 passes for 700 yards, which represented almost one-third of the team’s passing yards but was still underwhelming. He caught 147 passes for 2,178 yards and 18 touchdowns, but that was spread out over five seasons.
“We did not do a good enough job of getting him the ball like he deserved,” says Hill. “And teams take that away when a player is that good. Even so, we should have gotten him the ball more. We should have given him more touches.”
Then there was the concern about Shaheed’s injuries: He had two ACL tears — one during the 2019 season and another in the final game of his senior season, the latter injury complicated by an MCL tear.
“The scouts all loved him,” says Hill. “I think the injury was the biggest concern. When you have an ACL injury like that, you wonder if he is going to come back and be the dynamic athlete he was before. Will it slow him down?”
For his part, Hill says, “I told all the NFL scouts, I guarantee he’ll be ready to be a starting kick returner and he will make a wide receiver coach happy. He’ll play wide receiver in the NFL.”
The second ACL injury required surgery and six months or so of recovery and rehab. He could not participate in pro day workouts or NFL combines. The Saints signed him as a free agent and thought enough of his potential that they gave him $220,000 in guaranteed money.
He was limited to sideline workouts in minicamp and training camp. The Saints actually waived him at the end of camp and immediately signed him to their practice squad. He wasn’t moved to the active roster until the sixth game of the season, which of course is when he introduced himself in a big way with the jet-sweep touchdown, followed a week later by another touchdown on his first two touches.
Ask Hill what sets Shaheed apart, he doesn’t miss a beat. “Speed,” he says. “He has elite speed. And he has the ability to get in and out of breaks fast. He also has the ‘it’ factor as a returner — he finds the hole and knows how to hit it. And when he gets through it, you’re not going to catch him. I love watching him play.”
Hill also adds, “He texted me before the game (the 2023 season opener), thanking me for everything that we had been able to provide him at Weber. He said he couldn’t have done it without us. That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s humble and grateful.”