Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson is the most sought-after offensive lineman in the 2018 draft class. Which team will land the big fella?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position.
This week, we dive into the offensive line position. Today, we look at Quenton Nelson from the University of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame offensive guard and team captain Quenton Nelson was a unanimous All-American selection in 2017. Nelson earned experience in big games against quality defensive fronts in his 36 career starts for the Irish, including Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, and LSU. He enters the 2018 NFL Draft as the top offensive line prospect.
What exactly makes Nelson so special? Does he have any limitations that could hurt him at the next level? Where will he land in the upcoming draft?
Nelson possesses stellar size at six-foot-five and 329 pounds. Unsurprisingly, he is one of the strongest linemen in this year’s draft. He posted the second-most reps on bench press out of 15 offensive linemen with 35 reps of 225 pounds.
Nelson is a complete guard. He doesn’t lack any traits necessary to become an All-Pro at the position. He has incredible power and finishes every block. He is flexible and limber enough to make up for rare circumstances when he is out of position. Nelson almost always ends up on top (often literally) when facing even the most elite pass rushers:
Nelson’s weaknesses are very minimal and can be fixed with experience and coaching. He has a tendency to play with his eyes down when his aggressive instincts take over, missing on some of his targets. Minor injury concerns also exist. Teams missed the chance to see Nelson run at the combine when he skipped the 40-yard dash because of a hamstring injury.
It should be noted that Nelson’s overall athleticism isn’t special, even among other offensive linemen. He doesn’t have the engine to complete his run blocks at the second level every time. He also posted mediocre scores in speed and agility tests at the combine. Nelson finished 11th out of 15 in the three-cone drill with a time of 7.65 seconds, and seventh out of 15 in the 20-yard shuttle with 4.62 seconds.
Barring a disastrous circumstance that may arise leading up to the draft (Laremy Tunsil, anyone?), Nelson will be taken with a top-ten pick next month, which is pretty special. Nelson is a generational prospect at guard. Only two offensive guards, Leonard Davis in 2001 and Jonathan Cooper in 2013, have been taken with a top-ten draft pick this century. Nelson will be next.
The Cleveland Browns will be taking a quarterback with the number one pick, but Nelson could be picked as early as number two. The New York Giants are rebuilding their offensive line around former New England left tackle Nate Solder. Adding Nelson to the mix at guard could give the Giants the sharpest year-to-year improvement at offensive line that we have ever seen. However, the Giants also have a lot of other options. They can trade out of the number two spot, take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, or draft a quarterback of the future.
The New York Jets pick behind their MetLife Stadium co-inhabitants. The Jets traded up to the number three spot to take an elite quarterback prospect, so they will not be taking a lineman. Cleveland picks again fourth overall. Having lost their offensive line’s identity, tackle Joe Thomas, to retirement, the Browns could re-establish some power on their front line through the draft to better take care of their new rookie quarterback. There will be plenty of enticing skilled players still available, however. Pick number four will be fun to watch unfold.
The Denver Broncos pick fifth. The franchise is looking for a franchise quarterback, but likely won’t get a shot at Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen. They could use an elite running back on their roster as well, but Barkley may also be gone. If forced to choose between a rookie quarterback with a lot of question marks, like Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield, and a can’t-miss lineman, like Nelson, it would be tough to criticize VP of Football Operations John Elway for going the safe route by taking Nelson.
If Nelson is still available at number six, the Indianapolis Colts would be wise to take him in an effort to protect its franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, who is coming off of an injury. Tampa Bay could also use Nelson’s services, but the Bucs are likely to prioritize their secondary.
Chicago, San Francisco, and Oakland round out the top ten draft picks. Each of these teams need to improve their running game in order to become serious playoff contenders. Inserting Nelson at guard will help them do just that. Look for Nelson to be taken fifth by the Broncos, sixth by the Colts, or eighth by the Bears.
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- Jason Kelce, Chiefs
- Joe Thomas, Browns
- David DeCastro, Steelers
- Andrew Norwell, Panthers