I can't tell you that I knew David Nelson would soon become a starter when the Bills signed him as an undrafted free agent two summers ago. I didn't know if his 6'5, 215-pound frame could get past the speed of NFL corners or if he would even get a fair shot.
I do know that starters climb out of the undrafted pile once in a blue moon. I do know undrafted players rarely get a chance. But here's the thing: Winners win. And David Nelson sure as hell is a winner. Let's look at his career accomplishments with the help of Wikipedia:
Texas High School Champion? Check.
Champion of the toughest conference in college? Check. (twice)
BCS National Champion? Check. (twice)
I'm sure if we were able to go back to his pee wee football records, there would be a photo of a 10-year-old with a shaved head, holding a championship trophy.
Winner at life? Check.
Allow me to go into Rick Reilly mode for a second:
Nelson probably made his middle school team — as a first grader. Tim Tebow gave the locker room speeches because Nelson gave him permission.
Dude could walk onto the team and be the Sabres' No. 1 center. Tedy Bruschi retired because he heard Nelson was coming into the division. Alright, while we wait for my $3 million check from Bristol, let's talk about what he means to this year's team.
As a slot receiver, he means a whole heck of a lot. Aside from countless third-down receptions, the biggest Nelson memory of mine is in Week 3 last year against New England. He didn't score. He wasn't even in the top three in receiving yards that day.
And yet, I still point to him as one of the major turning points of that game. Down 21-0 with less than three to go in the first half, the Bills were in bad shape. I remember it like it was yesterday. Standing amidst a sea of Bills fans inside McFadden's — a Bills Backers bar in Manhattan — all of us packed in tight and watching what was becoming a blowout loss. All of us hoping, praying for SOMETHING to go Buffalo's way. Something to cheer about. I honestly think the bar erupted after Brady's first incompletion.
Fitzpatrick hit Nelson on a two-yard flare on a 2nd and 7. An innocent play I will never forget. Nelson turned up field, and ran from the 37 all the way up to the 15. Dragging Leigh Bodden with him, Nelson didn't stop until Kyle Arrington separated his head from his helmet. Nelson bounced back up, yelled "Let's go" through his mouthguard at all of Ralph Wilson Stadium, and eventually went back to pick up his lid.
At the time I didn't know why, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up. A 20-some-yard pass play in a three score game? Who cares? I think Nelson knew what we would all find out: It was the start of one of the greatest Bills games in recent memory.
I don't think Nelson is going to have a Pro Bowl year. I don't think he's going to lead the team in receptions. I don't even think Randy Cross will have learned that Nelson is a wide receiver, not a tight end.
But I do think that if Buffalo is going to go anywhere this season, he will have plenty of moments like he did against the Patriots. He'll be content with playing the slot and only catching passes at the most critical times. He won't seemingly never drop a pass. He'll run across the middle and get pounded for it. He'll block a DB and drive him back into the third row. He won't give a damn about statistics.
Because that's what winners do. And this guy would roadie an entire Nickelback/Justin Bieber/Carly Rae Jepsen tour if it helped him win a game. (still waiting on that check)