In the four-year history of this blog - a span that includes coverage of five different NFL Draft days - no Buffalo Bills pick has ever been more universally accepted by Bills fans than 2009 fourth-round pick Shawn Nelson, a tight end out of Southern Mississippi. The day he was drafted, 98 percent of Buffalo Rumblings readers approved of the selection.
When the Bills take on the Detroit Lions in tonight's 2011 pre-season finale, it very well could be the last time we see Nelson in a Bills uniform.
Nelson has been an enigma in every way except one in his first two professional seasons: he's been very difficult to get onto the field. He missed three games (and plenty of additional practice time) as a rookie with migraine issues, which then limited him to just five games in 2010. Those issues appear over, but now a leg injury has caused him to miss all of the team's pre-season games to this point in the year.
Buffalo's current decision-makers, led by GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey, have shown no loyalty to draft picks that they inherited from the Dick Jauron regime. Since taking over in January of 2010, they've already cut four of those players, highlighted by 2009 first-round pick Aaron Maybin, 2008 second-round pick James Hardy and 2008 third-round pick Chris Ellis.
Still, there was a point last season when it appeared that Nelson was a big part of Gailey's plans offensively. Coming off of a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, Nelson received a lot of playing time in Buffalo's Week 7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, where he was part of Buffalo's highly effective three-receiver passing package that torched the Ravens secondary all day. By the end of that overtime affair, Nelson had caught two passes for 16 yards, and fumbled the ball in the extra session that set up Baltimore's game-winning score.
From there, the migraine issues crept back in, and he caught just one more pass on the season after flubbing his big opportunity. (Yes, the argument exists that Nelson's forward progress may have been stopped; a fumble is a fumble is a fumble.)
Now Nelson has missed gobs of playing time at a position that is becoming increasingly irrelevant in Gailey's wide-open, Wildcat-marinated offensive scheme. He has no chance of claiming a starting gig he might've won had he been healthy, and doesn't seem to fit the prototype of the massive, blocking-oriented player the team seems to prefer at the position.
Gailey on Tuesday seemed eager to get Nelson into the lineup against the Lions. He's a coach that generally seems to be eager to see players play that he hasn't seen play enough, and that's Nelson's current predicament. Unfortunately, he's also a coach that has repeatedly preached the NFL as a business of production, and the injury-prone Nelson - with 21 career receptions and plenty of time missed - is severely lacking in those categories. Tonight may very well be your last night to enjoy Nelson in a Bills uniform, fans. Enjoy it while it lasts.