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Why the Saints need to optimize Shaheed in the run game in 2023

The rookie’s explosive speed was a pleasant yet limited surprise last season.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Rashid Shaheed was a delightfully pleasant surprise last season.

He exploded onto the scene after a 53-yard touchdown catch against the Arizona Cardinals. His blazing speed made an immediate impact in the passing game, and occasionally, the running game as well.

Using receivers in the running game has always been tricky business, and rarely a staple of a typical New Orleans Saints offense in the modern era. But Shaheed could (and should) be a force for change given his speed, agility, and vision.

We saw his ability to run a few times last season. Well, technically, four times last season. As to why Pete Carmichael only used him four times last season, I have no idea.

In only four attempts last season, Shaheed ran for 57 yards and one touchdown. That equated to 14.3 yards per carry, the sixth highest in yards per carry amongst NFL receivers last season.

In 2022, only ten NFL receivers had ten or more rushing attempts and only three had more than 15 attempts. With this in mind, Shaheed does not have to be an integral part of the running game like how San Francisco uses Deebo Samuel.

However, Carmichael has to find more ways to involve Shaheed in the run game. His speed and agility are weapons that the Saints have not had in a long time.

If any team has the resources to effectively use a speedy receiver in certain packages, it’s probably New Orleans. Not only does the team have a top-tier running back room, but they also have a fantastic running quarterback with Hill and an above-average offensive line.

Let’s imagine this scenario for a second:

It’s second and five. Carmichael sends out the offense in a shotgun split-back formation. Taysom Hill lines up with Alvin Kamara on his right and Jamaal Williams on his left. Before the snap, Shaheed motions from the slot toward the quarterback.

The defense is either going to have to stop Taysom Hill, one of the two best running backs in the NFC South, or a wide receiver that will fly past any linebacker on the planet. As the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, this formation would give me nightmares.

It’s difficult to create a solid plan for using Shaheed, an ultra-unique talent, in 2023. It’s also difficult to hope for a Deebo Samuel-esque role for the youngster who only has twelve NFL games under his belt. The main point here is that his running ability is worth far more than four runs a season.

Just the threat of giving the ball to Shaheed twice a game could make the Saints running offense one of the scariest in the NFL.

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