The Bills waited until round four to address the hole at tight end, but got a fantastic value in Southern Mississippi's Shawn Nelson. The featured weapon in his team's passing attack, Nelson was often lined up wide, but made plays despite being double teamed every week.
"He's an extremely athletic tight end that can help right away in the passing game," said Bills scout Shawn Heinlen. "He's a vertical threat with excellent hands and athletic ability. He runs very well for his size and is going to create matchup issues with linebackers and safeties."
"I kind of felt like I was going to end up in Buffalo," said Nelson. "Talking to the coaches at the combine and then seeing them release Robert Royal I knew they needed a tight end. So I had a strong feeling I would end up here. My focus was pretty much on Buffalo."
Nelson was the sixth tight end taken in the draft, but is considered a strong value choice for the Bills as many draft experts had the Southern Miss product pegged as a second or third round prospect.
Buffalo expects Nelson to make an immediate impact in the passing game as a rookie as his athletic ability and size (6'5", 240) will create mismatches against linebackers and safeties.
"Being a former wide receiver he's a little more trained in route running where you can just split him out in the slot and create matchup issues because he does have that athletic ability with his size to be able to do those things," said Heinlen. "Route running and his polish are very good in the receiving game. He's just raw in the blocking aspect of it. He should be able to come in and help our passing game right away."
Nelson was not asked to block all that much at Southern Mississippi, so he's considered a bit raw in that department, but he showed promise during the week of the Senior Bowl.
"My mindset in practice and in the game was that coming from Southern Miss a lot of guys didn't see what I was able to do," Nelson said. "So blocking wasn't going to be something that I just went out and did. It's something that I work at and I feel I've been getting better at it."
"He gives great effort," said Heinlen. "He works at the point. He's just got to work on technique and getting a little bigger and stronger."
Nelson is long and lanky and could benefit from some added muscle on his frame when it comes to blocking, but he did average 45 knockdown blocks per season in his college career.
Ideally the Bills see the 243-pound Nelson filling out to a maximum of 255 pounds, which they feel will help him hold up better at the point of attack.
But make no mistake, Nelson was drafted to make an impact in the passing game. With Lee Evans and Terrell Owens on the outside, Nelson figures to keep defenses honest in the middle of the field with Josh Reed.
"He's a legit 4.5 guy," said Bills scout Matt Hand of Nelson's 40 time. "I ran him in the spring and I had him at a 4.56, so he's a big time vertical threat for us."
"Once I get in and learn the playbook and get the offense down pat I think I'll be able to contribute and help the team win football games," said Nelson.
Nelson is a very seasoned player with 47 starts in his college career. Averaging better than 13 yards a catch over his four years, he had 16 touchdowns and over 2,000 receiving yards.
"He had great consistency over the years there," said Hand. "Every year from his freshman to his senior year he had production and stayed very consistent. We think he'll be able to get over this (blocking) hump and he's going to be something special."