As a receiver in the NFL you're dependent on so many other teammates on offense operating in sync to give you the chance to make a play. Watching David Nelson in the limited opportunities he has had through four games this NFL season, one comes away thinking only of what he provides to an offense that's in dire need of positive plays and consistency.
Nelson saw only spot duty in the Week 4 loss to the Jets, as the game plan had more tight end formations to protect quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The rookie wideout saw his most extensive time when the offense went to their two-minute drill at the end of the first half and Nelson proved instrumental in helping to put points on the board.
On a 1st-and-10 at the Bills 48, Fitzpatrick fired a pass over the deep middle to Nelson for a 37-yard gain. The very next play Fitzpatrick went to Nelson again for an 11-yard play to set up 1st-and-goal at the Jets' four-yard line. A play later Buffalo had seven points on the board after a four-yard reception by David Martin.
"That's just my job," said Nelson. "My job is to come in and provide a spark, do whatever I can to help this offense. Right now, I'm not an every down receiver. I'm not in the game the whole time. When I'm in there I have to execute and make plays."
By game's end Nelson, who saw a bit more action in the second half finished as the team's receiving yardage leader with four receptions for 74 yards. The undrafted rookie has only recorded receptions in Buffalo's two home games, but he's shown his coaches and teammates that he's reliable.
"He's a smart football player. He's very smooth in his route running," said Lee Evans. "He plays with a certain level of maturity that not a lot of rookies come in and have. I'm looking forward to watching him get better as the year wears on. He's a very smart football player."
While Nelson's skill set and dependability might be news to Bills fans and his new teammates, it's nothing the receiver's former college quarterback hasn't seen from Nelson before. Current Denver rookie signal caller Tim Tebow knows all too well about what helped his fellow Florida Gator make Buffalo's roster despite being an undrafted rookie.
"His work ethic, no doubt about it," said Tebow. "He was a hard worker, and he decided that he was going to make himself a great player by going in and putting in the work and competing, then taking what he learned and watching film and what the coaches told him, then going out on the practice field and improving every day. He made himself into a bigger, stronger, faster player that went out there and competed."
Nelson was not a full time starter at Florida until his senior year, due mainly to stiff competition with the likes of current NFL talents like Riley Cooper, Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy on the depth chart. But he did contribute in his time with the Gators, and that secondary role he had his first three seasons appears to have prepared him for the role he currently holds with the Bills as the team's fourth wideout.
"It definitely did just because every competitor and every playmaker wants the ball in their hands at all times," he said. "Going through that experience at Florida I was able to sit back and put things in perspective and gain the experience of being that spark off the bench or being that kind of player that the team needs when things are going wrong. For my first three years at Florida I was able to do that. It helped me get to the point where I know my role on this team."
During the training camp and preseason setting, head coach Chan Gailey often commented on how Nelson appeared wise beyond his years on the field, another asset he's had since his college days.
"He's competitive, he's smart and he's going to do exactly what you tell him," said Tebow. "There aren't that many guys that are that intelligent and that athletic and that big that can do that many things. I just think he's super talented and he's a guy that you root for. He's a guy that you want to see do well because he's great to have on your team."
Nelson, who finds a way to be a part of the action quickly, sounds like a player that Gailey may want in the lineup a bit more knowing how consistent the receiver's game has been in his short time in the NFL.
"That's a good trait for a receiver, to find a knack to get open and make a play," Gailey said. "He does seem to have a sixth sense about that."
The rookie receiver is hoping he can make enough of an impact to force opposing defenses to pay more attention to him when he's on the field. He knows that will lead to more chances for Buffalo's top wideouts to make plays.
"The past couple weeks I've been in the game, and had to make a mark," Nelson said. "I want to get to a point where when I come in the game the defense knows I'm in there and maybe they shadow a little more to my side so Lee and Roscoe can have more one-on-one matchups and they can do what they need to do."
Though Nelson may be a selfless player hoping his contributions create opportunities for others, his team might soon be calling on him to do more himself to help get a Buffalo offense out of neutral. As Tebow sees it, the Bills have a young receiver that's more than up to the task.
"I think he's capable of playing for a long time," said Tebow. "I think he's capable of doing what he's asked to do, doing his job, improving every week and consistently being a good player."