It was easy for Brandon Reilly to quickly become a favorite of Buffalo Bills fans.
Not only did they love his long-shot path as a zero-star walk-on at Nebraska to undrafted rookie in the NFL who made head-turning plays in the preseason, but they also ate up his background as a standout youth hockey player.
That the kid was among the nation's very best prospects as a center in eighth grade was music to all of those One Buffalo ears. Some of the faithful even went so far as to envision him moonlighting with the Pegulas' other franchise.
So when the Bills released Reilly Saturday, as one of the moves to trim their roster to the regular-season maximum of 53, there was a fair amount of Twitter backlash. He looked like someone with a whole lot of promise -- an impressive athlete with speed, the ability to run precise routes, and reliable hands.
At a time when expectations for the team are as low as at any time during the 17-year playoff drought, Reilly was a genuine feel-good story. He also showed, in various summer snapshots, the capacity to make a meaningful contribution.
How couldn't there be room for a player who had diamond-in-the-rough written all over him? Why wouldn't the Bills, who are hardly stacked at receiver, give Reilly a shot?
Cutting him didn't make all that much sense, even though the Bills' hope is to re-sign him to their practice squad, something they'd like to do with several others they released Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Bills' receiver situation has, for the time being, crystalized after Reilly, fellow undrafted rookie Daikiel Shorts, Dezmin Lewis, Jeremy Butler, and Rod Streater were all shown the door and Kaelin Clay was added as a return specialist in a trade with the Carolina Panthers.
The Bills will enter the season with Jordan Matthews, Zay Jones, and Andre Holmes in their top three spots. Inspiring? Not so much. The inspirational stuff pretty much ended last month when the Bills shipped their best player not named LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, to the Los Angeles Rams.
There isn't a whole lot in the way of difference-makers who will be catching passes for the Bills this season. That's consistent with the notion that, with Tyrod Taylor likely serving as a bridge to a franchise quarterback who is either on the roster (Nathan Peterman?) or will be next year, whatever the Bills do offensively is going to begin and likely end with McCoy's legs.
Why not keep Reilly around and let him be another go-to third-down option from the slot? That's what the Bills have with their entire receiving corps anyway.
It wasn't as if Philly Brown, one of the other newcomers who survived, did so much more in training camp and the preseason to put himself that far ahead of Reilly. But the edge he had was coming from the Carolina Panthers, where coach Sean McDermott got to know him while serving as their defensive coordinator and General Manager Brandon Beane was part of the player-personnel staff that brought Brown aboard.
Besides, Reilly, whose nine-yard touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles highlighted his 11 receptions for 139 yards in the preseason, could have also contributed on special teams. Instead, coach McDermott and Beane went to their Carolina-connection comfort zone by acquiring Clay.
I understand the uncertainty that exists with a rookie and that the Bills already have one in their receiving corps in Jones.
But something tells me that having Reilly on the 53-man roster would have made things a bit more interesting. The potential for him to build on the following he already had among fans was immense.
There was no risk here in terms of salary and there doesn't seem to be anyone else outside of the top three (and maybe even inside) that made an obviously stronger case.
Yes, Reilly could end up on the practice squad -- presuming he doesn't get picked up by another team -- and could go from there to the 53. For now, though, this has the feel of a missed opportunity in more ways than one.