He wasn't expected to be there in the fourth round, but the Bills were sure glad he was still on the board.
Top rated tight end Shawn Nelson took an unexpected free fall and was snatched up by the Buffalo Bills with the 121st overall selection in this year's NFL Draft. The former wide receiver will have the chance to make an immediate impact on the field.
Tight end has been a position in Buffalo that has recently been turned into the sixth offensive linemen. The Bills went after guys who could help out greatly in the run block. Robert Royal was the latest tight end to fit this mold for Buffalo, but was released in the off-season, creating a hole in the depth chart.
While a blocking tight end is nice to have on the roster, he should be a guy you pick up for cheap in free agency or late in a draft. The problem with Royal was not his blocking, which was excellent, but his ability to make a difference in the passing game.
Linebackers who played against Buffalo the last few seasons were not exactly keying on Royal, in fact they didn't need to. The tight end hauled in 33 passes for 351 yards last year, which were both career highs.
Unlike other tight ends in the league, Royal was not a goal-line threat to score either and scored only one touchdown last season.
Nelson will bring a new mentality to the tight end position, and to be honest, it is about time.
Blockers are nice, but the Bills haven't had a tight end who could help contribute to the offense since Jay Riemersma in the early 2000s. Nelson finally brings the skillset the Bills have been looking for.
Nelson is a prolific receiving tight end who caught 157 receptions for 2,054 receiving yards, recording 16 touchdowns in his collegiate career.
He has great size at 6' 5", 240 lbs, and an amazing wingspan which allows him to pluck passes out of the air. Nelson does a good job of shielding the ball from defenders, has great overall speed (ran a 4.56-40 at the combine), and has a quick burst off the line of scrimmage.
He also has good footwork and good lateral ability to be able to get off jams at the line so they won't affect his route. He can gain separation on slower linebackers in man-on-man coverage, has decent strength and shows good efforts in terms of blocking.
His greatest ability is he is able to stay balanced when fighting with defenders and constantly makes the hard play look easy.
He lacks the bulk to become a good blocker right away and also needs to add more upper body strength to help out in the run game. His routes can be inconsistent at times, which he got away with in college.
Nelson can also lack concentration at certain times which leads to drops of easy passes. He lacks the agility down-field to make defenders miss and pull away from would be tacklers. Some say that Nelson looked the same playing as a senior as he did as a freshman which leads them to believe he might have maxed out already, or lacks the drive to become the best player he can be.
Where He Will Fit in the Offense and Season Outlook:
The Bills currently have Derek Fine, the fourth round selection of the 2008 NFL Draft, and Derek Schouman at the tight end position.
Fine played well at times last season, but wasn't used much in the passing game and was mostly brought in to block on two tight end formations. He was also used at the goal line, again, mostly for his blocking skills.
When given the chance, Fine showed soft hands and the ability to get open, hauling in 10 passes for 94 yards and one touchdown. He will stick mostly to his role last season, coming in for blocking purposes or double-tight sets. He is a great special teams player too, and will certainly be on the roster for the up-coming season.
Schouman, a seventh round pick in the 2007 draft, split playing time with Fine in double tight end formations and when Robert Royal was not on the field.
His blocking skills are certainly up to par, as he had a similar role to Fine last season. Also remember, in his rookie campaign he was moved into the "H-back" role, a hybrid of the full back position, basically a guy who can block but can catch passes out of the backfield too.
Schouman also showed the ability to catch the ball, having 15 receptions for 153 yards and one touchdown.
Depending on how Fine and Schouman progress overall, they should be expected to come in on running downs again, and used mostly for their blocking skills. However, opposing defenses have to pay attention as the two of them can turn into reliable targets on play action passes.
Nelson should step into the starting role and will be utilized as a pass catcher. Towards the end of the season, his blocking skills should start to come around, but for the most part of his rookie year he should be expected to be a pass catching tight end only.
Nelson adds to a receiving corps that already includes deep threat Lee Evans, Terrell Owens, "Mr. First Down" Josh Reed, Steven Johnson, James Hardy, and speedy wide-out Roscoe Parrish.
The Bills now have the option to spread the field against weaker defenses. In terms of targets, the they have plenty and it should greatly help out third year signal caller Trent Edwards. Reed and Nelson should wreak havoc on the middle of the defense while Evans and Owens spread the field with their deep threat ability.
Overall, Edwards has plenty of weapons to get the ball to and with Marshawn Lynch (after suspension), Fred Jackson, and Dominic Rhodes in the back field, along with the addition of Nelson, the Bills should have an offense that defensive coordinators will be up late at night studying for.
Or at least spending more time than they have in the past.
This article was also featured on NFLTouchdown.com.