Rashid Shaheed: The New Orleans Saints speed demon is a joyous NFL throwback

Love speed? Love the NFL? New Orleans Saints wide receiver Rashid Shaheed is emerging as one of the league's most devastating deep threats after a standout performance against the Indianapolis Colts in Week Eight; Shaheed recorded a career-best 153 receiving yards.

By Cameron Hogwood, Interviews, Comment & Analysis @ch_skysports

Image: Saints wide receiver Rashid Shaheed put on a downfield clinic against the Colts

Run, Rashid, run! 

What is it you say you love about the NFL when your non-sluggish friends ask of your nocturnal football fandom? Is it the angle-skewing, off-platform, play-extending Houdini acts of a Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson? Is it the club and clobber swim-and-sack ferocity of a TJ Watt? Is it the salsa-dancing, box-step release packages and route-running artistry of Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams? Is it Mike McDaniel's misdirection or Lou Anarumo's simulated pressure packages?

Or is it speed? Devastating, unadulterated, good old fashioned speed, the poster boy of which tends to be Tyreek Hill.

Enter, Rashid Shaheed. Your home-run flyer whose arrival at the batter's plate is an unwritten prompt for fielders to retreat a few yards in aid of buying themselves some compensatory cushion. The New Orleans Saints wide receiver has emerged from undrafted obscurity to become the NFL definition of chopping the top off a defense, his track talents making for some of the league's most exhilarating offensive optics even if his team's collective success isn't moving the needle right now.

Ask the Indianapolis Colts. Shaheed just challenged their secondary to a sprint meet, crossing the line to the tune of three catches for 153 yards and a touchdown in a 38-27 victory. He saw, he ran, he conquered.


Facing third-and-13 with three minutes to play, the Saints turned to Shaheed as their closer. The Colts had lined up in press coverage on the outside; Shaheed had his green light. He faked an outside release, scooted inside, drove his legs into the ground and exploded into instant separation before sucking in Carr's sideline fade shot for a 51-yard pickup that would ultimately tee up the game-icing field goal. Almost simultaneously he and Carr gestured 'bed time'.

Earlier in the game Pete Carmichael had dialled up a trips left formation with Shaheed as his outside man against press coverage and a two-high safety look. With Rodney Thomas II frozen by Chris Olave's seam route, Shaheed was in the clear to dunk on his one-on-one matchup with Tony Brown, gliding to a post route and hauling in Carr's heave for a 58-yard touchdown.

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Shaheed hit a top speed of 21.11 mph on the play while the throw had a completion probability of 62.6 per cent, according to Next Gen Stats. In an era of deep safety shells devoted to starving offenses of splash plays, Shaheed's speed is still allowing him to feast. In an era where the onus is on dink-and-dunk patience and horizontal subterfuge, Shaheed is a joyous throwback in his own right.

"Derek Carr in the huddle told me 'if you see quarters, just run'. It seems to be working out for us pretty well," said Shaheed.

The game lifted his tally on the year to 23 catches for 479 yards and three scores at a league-leading 20.8 yards per reception as a welcome complement to Chris Olave, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Of his 23 catches, six have gone for over 40 yards. SIX.

"I couldn't tell you who the players are in our league, but I bet you it's a small number, and I bet there's a lot of recognisable names in terms of guys that have that many 40-plus-yard receptions," said head coach Dennis Allen. "And, look, not only does that benefit us, us being able to get the ball to him down the field, but it opens up a lot of other things in the passing game when you got a guy that has that type of threat."

Shaheed is currently averaging 16.2 mph when he touches the ball this year, including on kick returns, and 16.3 mph on offensive plays, with only Tyreek Hill's 16.87 mph faster among players with 13-plus touches, per Next Gen Stats. He is a legitimate burner.

"Throw Rashid a go (route)," Carr had instructed Carmichael down the stretch of the Saints' Week One win over the Tennessee Titans.

"Yes!" agreed backup quarterback Jameis Winston, sitting a little further down the bench.

Staring at third-and-six with two-minutes to play, Carmichael obliged. Shaheed ran a simple go route, with Carr finding him for 41 yards to help the Saints hold on for a 16-15 victory. He is growing to become a minefield for defensive strategy, flashing the unsung ball skills with which to gloss his Forrest Gump threat.

Image: Shaheed makes the catch over the shoulder against Tony Brown in coverage

Houston tried to contain him by lining up in soft man coverage on one sequence in Week Six, Shaheed still managing to breeze beyond Steven Nelson before reining in his route to comeback on a slightly underthrown pass and make a smothering catch over the Texans cornerback. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season he ran a near-identical fly route down the sideline, maintaining stride while back-peddling to cradle the reception.

The Saints have little reason to meddle with an approach with Shaheed that, while hardly disguised, continues to open up the field. But with last season's jet-sweep handoff touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals and his open field elusiveness as a returner in mind, there is a glaring license to expand the way they use his ability to make men miss.

"I think there's still a lot of meat left on the bone in terms of what we need to be able to do and what he can do. Obviously, his explosiveness down the field is probably his biggest trait," added Allen. "I can think in the last few weeks, Houston being one, the play today, where he goes and makes a play on the football and high points the ball. So, there's some of that that I'm seeing that I really like. I think it's all the little bitty intricacies and the little bitty details that he's still gotta improve on, but his speed and explosiveness makes him really difficult to cover."

Shaheed was something of unknown entity before being activated from the practice squad in October last year. The 25-year-old arrived in 2022 as an undrafted free agent out of lesser-known Weber State, where he had posted an FCS all-time record of seven career kickoff return touchdowns and finished with 5,478 all-purpose yards.

New Orleans Saints' Rashid Shaheed goes 76 yards on the punt return to level the score for his team against the Green Bay Packers.

Weber State marked the only school to offer Shaheed a football scholarship, while USC were among multiple schools to recruit him as a track and field athlete in light of his success as a 200m and 400m San Diego section champion at Mt. Carmel High School.

Track is in the Shaheed blood: his father Haneef competed as a sprinter at Arizona State and now trains daughter Amirah at Madison High, his mother Cassondra ran 400m hurdles at San Diego State, and his other sister Aysha is a sprinter at Cal.

Haneef had notably favoured a sprint scholarship with USC for his son as opposed to playing football at Weber State, where it had been suggested Rashid should play at cornerback. Shaheed was intent on proving his worth as a receiver, teasing his deep threat prowess with 2,178 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air but finding his progress blunted by a first ACL tear in 2019 followed by a second in the final game of his senior year.

Surgery meant Shaheed was unable to take part in his Pro Day or the NFL Combine, seemingly throwing NFL scouts off the scent ahead of the Draft. The Saints would prove beneficiaries, snapping him up as a free agent. In his first game against the Bengals he took slalomed past a defender on the outside for a 44-yard rushing touchdown. In his second game he torched the Arizona Cardinals defense over the top for a 53-yard visit to the end zone. By the end of 2022 he had 28 catches for 488 yards at 17.4 yards per catch.

"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," said Allen in January.

He is a sizzling edge-of-your-seat component to a Saints attack with the personnel to thrill, promising the NFL its regular dose of deep-shot disruption.

When in doubt, Carr has come to learn that Shaheed is probably downfield somewhere.

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