Leading up to this year’s NFL Draft there was constant speculation that the Bills might take a tight end early if the right guy was still on the board. Maxx Williams from Minnesota and Clive Walford from Miami (FL), arguably the top ranked player’s at the position in the 2015 class both had pre-draft visits with the team and were available when Buffalo was on the clock.
Instead, the Bills waited until day three and the sixth-round, selecting Florida State standout Nick O’Leary with the 194th overall pick. Despite receiving the 2014 John Mackey award for the nation’s best tight end, Jack Nicklaus’ grandson flew under most NFL team’s radar due to a lack of height, length and a slow 40-yard dash time which was the result of a hamstring injury suffered during the Senior Bowl. Even with that prognosis make no mistake, last year’s First Team All-American can play, and is a tenacious competitor whose skill set could land him playing time early and often in Buffalo.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been known to heavily utilize tight ends in multiple facets of his offense. The new play-caller relies on that position to be a consistent blocker for the power running game and have the ability to effectively engage and release out into the passing lanes. Roman also uses a lot of multiple tight end sets, either stacking both on one side or splitting each on opposite sides of the ball, opening more opportunities for a player like O’Leary.
While prized free agent acquisition Charles Clay should see a majority of the targets and attention from the defense, the rest of the snaps will be fought over between veteran spark-plug Marqueis Gray, former Canisius College basketball player Chris Manhertz, 2013 7th-round pick Chris Gragg and O’Leary. Only two practices into his young Bills career, the rookie has already impressed with a couple tough catches, something he gained a reputation for during his college years.
The 6’3”, 247-pound tight end/h-back had a very productive career at Florida State, hauling in 114 receptions for 1,591 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in 54 games. He served as one of the main passing targets for QB Jameis Winston, catching nearly everything thrown his way and playing with an attitude that could get under the opponents skin. Additionally, Roman will like the fact that NFL scouts praised O’Leary’s willingness as a blocker and instincts with his route-running ability, consistently working zone defenses and finding ways to get open. It is worth noting however, that while his aggressiveness allowed him to be a good blocker in college, sometimes even taking on multiple players on a single play, the rookie will have to earn his keep in a much faster and stronger pro game; something his playing time will hinge on.
Nevertheless, any guy who is crazy competitive, doesn’t wear receiver’s gloves, is willing to do anything to win and has champion’s blood belongs in Buffalo. The new offense should feature plenty of looks for a natural pass-catcher like O’Leary and his work ethic, along with a penchant for mixing it up should be favorable in the eyes of the coaching staff. He’s also known for the ability to protect and hold on to the ball, something Rex Ryan will surely love.
All of these attributes and Roman’s affinity for using H-Backs make a great case for the Bills to have plenty of work for its 6th-round pick. Sure, there are a few physical limitations that kept 31 other teams away, but many people believe Buffalo got a major steal with the selection. Also, for what it’s worth, NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. had O’Leary ranked as the number one tight end in the class at the end of 2014, while NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah predicted the former Seminole as a 4th or 5th round talent.
In reality, without pulling the hamstring during Senior Bowl warm ups, Nick performs better at the NFL scouting combine and the Bills maybe lose out on him. The kid still has major work to do and will be competing with some solid veterans, but he possesses a lot of the characteristics needed to be successful in this offense. Don’t be surprised if you see Nick O’Leary starting at tight end opposite of Charles Clay on opening day.
As Robyn Mundy said, let #TheLegendofNicko begin.