WR Ben Nelson went from three Viking training camps straight into a starring role in the Arena League
Fresh off a Rookie of the Year performance in the Arena Football League, Ben Nelson will now give the National Football League another try. The former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday.
The Bucs also announced the release of first-year DE Moe Thompson, who was signed on May 12.
Nelson (6-3, 188) went to training camp with the Vikings each of the last three summers and spent portions of the 2003 and 2004 seasons on Minnesota's practice squad. For a three-game stretch in 2004, the former St. Cloud State standout was promoted to the active roster, where he contributed a pair of special teams tackles. Prior to that campaign, he also played in the 2004 NFL Europe League as a Vikings allocate, catching 15 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown as a member of the Cologne Centurions.
Nelson was no longer eligible for a practice squad assignment in 2005, but the Vikings tried to extend his stay by converting him to safety during training camp. Nelson was waived in late August, however, and two months later he was catching passes again, this time for the San Jose SaberCats of the AFL.
And catching lots of them. In his first AFL season, Nelson led the SaberCats with 94 receptions for 1,405 yards and 26 touchdowns despite playing in only 11 of the team's 15 games. He finished just six yards short of the league's rookie record in that category and was named Rookie of the Year while helping San Jose to the American Conference finals. Nelson had at least 100 receiving yards in seven of the 11 games in which he played.
Now the Bucs will give Nelson a fresh start and another shot at the NFL, though he will have to battle a crowded field of receivers. His addition gives the Bucs' 15 wideouts amid a bloated roster of 100 hopefuls. The Bucs can currently carry that many players only because their 10 picks from April's draft are not yet under contract.
Nelson originally signed with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He was waived at the end of the preseason but was signed twice for short stints on the Vikings' practice squad, then re-signed in January and allocated to the NFLEL. In 2004, he started the season on the practice squad but was elevated to the active roster on November 2. After appearing in three games, solely on special teams, Nelson was waived on November 25 and added back to the practice squad.
Nelson finished his collegiate career as the all-time leader in touchdown receptions (43) at St. Cloud State. He also rose to second on the school's career receptions list and third on the career receiving yardage chart. He was consistently productive, recording a string of 34 straight games with at least one catch. Nelson played his high school football in Anoka, Minnesota.