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Rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed following familiar path with New Orleans Saints

'I hope I can get that respect from defensive coordinators throughout the league'

Check out the New Orleans Saints game action in Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns during the 2022 NFL season.
Check out the New Orleans Saints game action in Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns during the 2022 NFL season.

If there's one thing that Rashid Shaheed knows how to do, it's to create a first impression. And a second, and a third.

In his second game as a freshman at Weber State, against Cal-Berkley, Shaheed caught four passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.

"There's not many guys that come in and are All-Americans as a freshman and as a sophomore, and then they find ways to just get better and better throughout their career," said Shaheed's college coach, Jay Hill. "Rashid was one of those guys. He's always been a big-play guy. As a true freshman we were playing Cal-Berkley, and he was the best player on the field as a true freshman."

The four-time All-American finished his college career with an FCS-record seven kickoff returns for touchdowns and 5,478 all-purpose yards.

In his first game with the New Orleans Saints, after an exhaustive rehab to repair his ACL that he tore in college, Shaheed took a handoff against Cincinnati on Oct. 16 and blazed 44 yards to the end zone and since, he has provided one electrifying play after another.

The sustainability that he had in college is what he's seeking in the NFL, and he's off to a solid start.

Shaheed has 19 catches for 375 yards and two touchdowns receiving in 10 games, including 13 catches for 264 yards and a touchdown in the last four. He also has three carries for 50 yards and the touchdown, and as New Orleans' primary returner after Deonte Harty was injured, has returned 17 punts for 175 yards and 13 kickoffs for 293 yards.

"It's coming along very well," Shaheed said. "I feel like I've grown within this past few games, and it's all coming along very well. The coaches are putting me in the right positions to make plays, and I'm loving where I'm at."

Better for New Orleans, opponents haven't yet concocted a formula to shut him down. In freezing temperatures in Cleveland, with top receivers Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry out (Landry was placed on injured reserve), Shaheed slid into the top target role and caught four passes for 41 yards on a day in which the Saints completed just eight passes for 92 yards. The week before, in a victory over Atlanta, he caught three passes for 95 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown.

"I can't say that there's a lot that shocks me with this kid anymore just based on what we've seen up to this point," Coach Dennis Allen said. "We haven't been in that environment (in Cleveland) with this group of guys, and you honestly don't know how everybody is going to respond. But I felt like our team responded extremely well to those environments and I think Rashid responded well himself."

"It was very cool," Rashid said of the Cleveland game. "Always reflecting on the past and everything that has brought me to this point, it's been a journey and I can't be thankful enough."

What he is doing, and has done, is what Hill expects Shaheed to continue to do even though he still is polishing as a receiver.

"He's always been used as a wide receiver," said Hill, who said Shaheed wasn't just fast, but also "wiggly." "He might have flown a little bit under the radar. I think he's a developing wide receiver that will get better and better. He's going to be a very productive receiver in the NFL."

"It's kind of where the coaches put me," Shaheed said. "The fact that I have the trust from the coaches and (quarterback) Andy (Dalton) means a lot.

"I feel like I've gotten more comfortable with both. With the return game, there's definitely a big difference in speed and timing has to be on point. Rizz (special team coordinator Darren Rizzi) has put a lot of trust in me to go out there and do my job, and that's what I try to do on offense, too."

Hill said Weber State was fortunate to land the speedster.

"Everybody knew about Rashid and he really was a Power 5 talent in high school, but had some transcript things that popped up," Hill said. "We were able to get him, we established a great relationship with him and his family. He's always been a big-time talent. Really was a special talent from Day 1. There's a lot of things he was able to accomplish here."

Now, he's carving out a niche with the Saints. And with it, the surprise element likely will disappear, if it hasn't already disappeared.

"I feel like my speed is definitely my biggest attribute, but I feel like something that's been overlooked in my career is that I can run all the routes and run the route tree and be a receiver that can do everything," Shaheed said. "That's something I take pride in and something I continue to get better at.

"I hope I can get that respect from defensive coordinators throughout the league."

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