He doesn’t wear gloves and is the grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus. But that’s not the only reason Buffalo Bills fans are familiar with the 6-foot-3, 252-pound tight end. Nick O’Leary has emerged into a quality contributor to the Bills’ offense and is poised to take another step forward in the 2018 NFL season.
The former John Mackey award winner played a major role in the Florida State Seminoles’ National Championship campaign in 2014 as one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets, earning All-American and first-team All-ACC honors.
He declared for the 2015 NFL draft and despite his impressive production – 114 receptions, 1,591 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns – O’Leary’s lack of elite physical attributes caused him to slide to Day 3. Spending the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad, O’Leary was called up to the active roster following the release of Matthew Mulligan but was non-existent in the four games he appeared in.
Nick O’Leary entered training camp in 2016 viewed as a player on the roster bubble but impressed throughout the preseason, showing improvement both as a route runner and a run blocker. He established himself as the No. 2 tight end behind Charles Clay. He played in all 16 games that season, starting seven, finishing the season with nine catches for 119 yards.
O’Leary’s blocking continued to improve throughout the season but he showed that he could contribute to the passing game in 2017. He appeared in 15 games, making five starts and caught 22 passes for 322 receiving yards and two touchdowns while also serving as a reliable run blocker when attached to the line of scrimmage.
Because of his limited upside from an athleticism standpoint, it’s difficult to believe that Nick O’Leary will develop into a high-end starter but his year-to-year improvement make him a viable No. 2 option that should allow him to be a regular contributor as a solid No. 2 option.
O’Leary has already proven that he is a valuable player to have around. He’s a hard worker and does what is asked of him in order to contribute in any way possible. For example, blocking was one of his deficiencies coming out of college, but he’s turned that into one of his strengths. He has limited speed and struggled to get separation, often times rounding the stem of his routes. Now, he’s capable of not only getting open, but using his body to shield defenders and make contested catches in traffic.
The #Bills offense ran 3 main personnel groups. Below are the % of plays ran from each and the NFL average in parenthesis:
— PFF BUF Bills (@PFF_Bills) July 8, 2018
Buffalo’s new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has typically utilized “12” personnel as his base offensive grouping, meaning that Nick O’Leary should have ample opportunity to showcase his abilities. His versatility will be an asset to the Bills and for O’Leary, who is entering a contract year, it will be interesting to see if he can contrinue to keep making strides in his development as he has each season.