Shawn Nelson is Mr. Cellophane. If you don't know who that is, I suggest checking out this clip of John C. Reilly from the movie Chicago. Frankly, we're not noticing you, Mr. Nelson, and the Buffalo Bills tight end situation is exactly where it's been since Jay Riemersma left.
Nelson was trumpeted as a steal in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Hopes were raised further when, in his first game as a professional, Nelson made an acrobatic touchdown dive that has thus far been the highlight of his career. Many hoped he would become Buffalo's first viable receiving tight end since Riemersma, but that has not materialized in his year and a half in Buffalo. Prior to this season, he lost his starting job to Jonathan Stupar, an undrafted free agent in 2008 who spent the better part of his 2009 season on the practice squad.
Part of Nelson's current problem is the way his season started. Nelson wasn't eligible to play the first four games this year because he was suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It should be noted that to receive a suspension, you must be caught twice.
To further dampen the start of Nelson's year, he had surgery following the preseason and didn't come back from his suspension fully recovered. The additional recovery time forced him to miss a fifth game. Adding the Bills bye week, there were seven and a half weeks between Nelson's final preseason appearance and his regular season debut.
In his first game back against Baltimore, Nelson caught two passes for 16 yards, then coughed up the game-deciding fumble in overtime. He has not caught a pass in the Bills' three games since that date. In 12 games last year, Nelson caught 17 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown.
With Roscoe Parrish's emergence, the Bills were lining up in many three-receiver sets, and Nelson wasn't on the field. In running formations, David Martin was in at tight end to block. As Brian Galliford noted in May, Chan Gailey does not have a history of getting his tight ends involved in the passing attack.
With another positive banned substance test meaning an eight-game suspension, and considering his general lack of production, the Bills will seriously need to look at fortifying their tight end position this offseason. That means Nelson, who still hasn't found his way as a blocker, might find himself on the outside looking in.
Right now, few people even know he's there.