The vision was that Rashid Shaheed, who signed as an undrafted rookie in 2022, to pitch in and help as a receiver, perhaps especially since Shaheed tore his ACL in his final college game at Weber State and needed time to rehab the injury, and since the New Orleans Saints already had on their roster at the time Deonte Harty, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl returner in 2019 who led the league in punt return yards that season.
But Harty was injured and placed on injured reserve on Oct. 15, 2022, Shaheed was signed off the Saints' practice squad to the active roster the same day, and Shaheed did a whole lot more than add to the receiving corps.
He stepped in as the team's top option and returned 20 punts for 193 yards and 14 kickoffs for 320 yards, caught 28 passes for 488 yards and two touchdowns and added 57 rushing yards and a touchdown on four carries.
That eye-opening debut led to Wednesday's announcement that Shaheed was named the returner for the NFC Pro Bowl team. Pro Bowl Sunday is designated for Feb. 4 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Shaheed this season has returned 23 punts for 321 yards and a touchdown, a 76-yarder against Green Bay, and 18 kickoffs for 384 yards. And he has grown even more as a receiver, with 41 catches for 640 yards and four touchdowns.
"We kind of sold him on the vision for what we thought he could be," Saints special team coordinator Darren Rizzi said Thursday. "We felt like not only could he be a returner, but we also felt like he could help us out at receiver, so we didn't feel like he was a kind of a one-trick pony.
"Coming in, he was kind of that ideal fourth or fifth guy that we felt like could really help our offense and be a dual returner. He was extremely productive in college, and so, we really felt like that would translate. The speed was there – there was no doubt about that. We sold him and his agent on what we thought the vision for him was, and we sold a little bit of what we'd done as a special team unit, where he'd fit in the big picture."
At Weber State, Shaheed set the FCS all-time record with seven kickoff returns for touchdowns, averaged 29.1 yards per kick return and also finished third in career punt return yards.
"It's a great honor for him, I think it's extremely well-deserved," Rizzi said. "Shaheed's a guy we looked at for a couple of years and really saw a good vision for the player and we were fortunate to get him, and he has really done the rest.
"It's really a group honor, in my opinion, especially for a returner. In this game, you don't do anything by yourself. Although Shaheed has been dynamic with the ball in his hands, he's got a lot of guys out there blocking for him. It's a really nice honor for the whole core group.
"There's a human element to this game that we sometimes forget about, and Shaheed is a great person. I'm just really happy for him. Good things happen to good people, it's good to see his hard work pay off."