The Buffalo Bills employed two tight end sets often in 2017. The tight ends were able to capitalize on the increased usage, combining for 78 receptions, 947 yards, and five touchdowns. The group’s leader, Charles Clay, played a large part in the team’s success at the position, but there was solid depth at the position that emerged, as well.
In our latest installment in the “90 players in 90 days” series, we check out a man so tough that he forgoes the use of gloves when catching NFL passes.
Name: Nick O’Leary
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 252 lbs.
College: Florida State
Draft: Selected in the sixth round (194th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft
Financial situation (per Spotrac): An exclusive-rights free agent, O’Leary signed a one-year, $705,000 contract tendered to him by the Bills.
2017 Recap: After struggling to separate and anchor as a blocker consistently in 2016, O’Leary enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2017. While his numbers weren’t eye-popping, he did manage to haul in 22 passes for 322 yards, good for a 14.6 YPC average, which was second only to wide receiver Deonte Thompson among all Bills’ players. O’Leary also added the first two touchdowns of his NFL career.
Positional outlook: The tight end position is one of the few areas of the roster where the Bills have truly solid depth. They have an established veteran in Charles Clay, a solid player in O’Leary, and an athletic project in Logan Thomas rounding out the top three spots on the depth chart. Khari Lee, who appeared in 8 games for the Bills without catching a pass, would seem to have the lead as a fourth option at the position. Second-year players Jason Croom and Keith Towbridge round out the positional group.
2018 Offseason: Little has been written in the way of offseason activities at this time, but O’Leary’s continued growth and use in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s new system will be worth watching this summer. SB Nation’s Ian Boyd broke down some potential schemes that Daboll could use at Alabama, focusing on the fact that he had a concentration of talented tight ends on the roster. With Buffalo’s tight end group arguably being the stronger group when compared to the receiving corps, it’s quite possible that the new offensive coordinator will use Clay, O’Leary, and Thomas to exploit mismatches all over the field.
2018 season outlook: Barring an injury or some other unforeseen circumstance, O’Leary should open the year as Buffalo’s TE2. While not a top-end athlete, he is a grinder who has developed quite nicely as both a route runner and a receiver. He isn’t a great blocker, but he is solid enough to hold his own at the point of attack. He showed the ability to come open in space when former offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was able to scheme it for him, so it isn’t a stretch to think that Brian Daboll can do the same. As a result, O’Leary’s fourth year could be his best yet.