After a 2011 season that was sent on a downward spiral by one injury after another, 2012 couldn't have gotten off to a much worse start for the Buffalo Bills. Although the loss of running back Fred Jackson may be more alarming based on name recognition and offensive impact, the injury to wide receiver David Nelson may be tougher for the offense to deal with.
The first one out was Jackson, who was reported to have sprained his LCL by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who also outlined a best-case scenario, adding that no exact timeline was set for his recovery:
The best case scenario for Fred Jackson would be a return in 4 weeks, but again, MRI inconclusive on exact range— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 10, 2012
We'll know better in seven to 10 days exactly what the prognosis is for his recovery, but although Jackson is a key cog in the Bills offense, running back C.J. Spiller filled in admirably down the stretch following his injury in 2011.
Spiller quickly reminded the Bills of what he meant to their offense in the absence of Jackson, reeling off a 56-yard touchdown run and totaling 14 carries for 169 yards and the score against one of the better run defenses in the league, adding two receptions for 25 yards.
On a dark day for the Bills offense, Spiller was their lone bright spot.
Although Spiller isn't as well-rounded in pass protection as Jackson, there's just as much big-play potential to be had, if not more.
As a result of all that, the loss of Jackson may not be nearly as tough to cope with as the loss of wide receiver David Nelson—not just because the running back will be out a shorter amount of time, but also because the Bills are better equipped in terms of depth to deal with injuries at running back than they are at wide receiver.
Nelson is done for the season, as reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, and for a wide receiver group that came under fire for a lack of depth and a bigger lack of explosive playmaking potential on the outside, this one could really hurt.
The rest of the Bills wide receivers do not offer the promise that came with Nelson, coming off a season in which he caught 61 passes for 658 yards and five touchdowns.
Their numbers paint the picture of a team that could be combing the waiver wire or perhaps its own practice squad for an addition at wide receiver.
But Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 SportsRadio says head coach Chan Gailey may have a different plan moving forward:
With Nelson done for the year, Chan Gailey said on WGR this morning that TJ Graham would see a heightened role in the offense.— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeB_WGR) September 10, 2012
Graham was a healthy scratch from Sunday's loss to the Jets. His absence from the lineup came as a surprise to many observers, but it will come as an outright shock if the trend continues now with Nelson out of the picture.
Someone—be it T.J. Graham, Ruvell Martin, Donald Jones or some other receiver not yet on the roster—could step up, but no matter who fills the role, he has big shoes to fill. Nelson was ultra-reliable when the ball was thrown his way, dropping just four passes on 94 targets and catching 64.9 percent of passes in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.
Perhaps the Bills will look to add talent through free agency; wide receiver Plaxico Burress comes to mind as a big name that is available on the market, but the Bills could look to a lesser-known young receiver to grow within the system.
For a team that already lacked depth at receiver, Nelson's injury could be even worse news than the trouncing they took at the hands of the Jets.
Call it adding injury to insult.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.