Not long ago, Shawn Nelson was a well-regarded tight end prospect out of Southern Mississippi. Drafted in the fourth round in 2009 by the Buffalo Bills, He was the fifth TE selected in a draft that included the likes of the Lions' Brandon Pettigrew and the Titans' Jared Cook. While Pettigrew and Cook are enjoying success on improving teams, in his two-plus seasons Nelson has caught just 20 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.
"I felt uncomfortable there, to be honest," said Nelson of his time in Buffalo. "They don't use their tight ends too much. In the end, I think it worked out for me, and I'm glad to be here."
Nelson was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief when the Jets signed him on Monday after he had been without a team since early September. Given a second chance to develop into an offensive weapon, Nelson is grateful for the opportunity.
"Rex [Ryan] and Mike [Tannenbaum], they wanted me here," said Nelson. "That's what I like, to be wanted. I want to be here."
After the joy of draft day in 2009, Nelson's career got off to a rocky start and never appeared to smooth itself out during his Bills tenure.
"My rookie year was a good experience for me. I had to learn fast. It was a great experience, but it was also hard, stepping into a new league where it's not only a game, it's a business. I had to learn a lot off the field as well."
Anointed as the starting TE to begin his rookie season, Nelson caught 17 passes in 12 games. It was a slow but promising start to his career, which would soon hit a substantial speed bump.
Nelson was suspended for the first four games of his sophomore campaign due to a failed drug test. The rumors began to swirl and questions arose from all over.
He was cast as a bad seed. It was an unfair conclusion.
"There are a lot of things that go on where a player gets a finger pointed at him," said Nelson. "As far as my suspension goes, I took a prescribed medication that they said I couldn't take after 30 days, and I did. That made [the test] a positive for me."
Nelson has suffered from migraines throughout his life and was hospitalized during his rookie season with a particularly strong case.
"If anybody knows me, they know I don't do any drugs," he said. "With the migraines, it was nothing [Buffalo] didn't know about. They knew about it, and they treated me for it. I told them when I get them, I get them for like two weeks straight."
Nelson suffered another bout of migraines after returning from his suspension, leading the Bills to place him on injured reserve. He pleaded his case, trying to convince management that he would recover and be at full health in a short time. Nonetheless, he sat the remainder of 2010, returned to the Bills for their 2011 training camp, then was released on Sept. 3.
Nelson is relieved to have the chance to start over with the Jets, citing a new-found level of comfort.
"Surprisingly there is already. Everybody is positive. Words can't explain how great it is," he said. "I'm not trying to overexaggerate — it's really great. I like it."
His appreciation is obvious, and having had to deal with unfortunate circumstances on and off the field, he is more than happy to be playing football once more.
"I don't have a chip on my shoulder, but I play like I do. I use certain things in my life, place those on my shoulder, and use them as my chip," he said. "People can say whatever they want to say about me, but at the end of the day, I'm Shawn Nelson. I'm a Jet now."