By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Typically in an NFL Draft, interior offensive linemen have a shot at going in the back half of the first round. The exception to that trend was the 2013 NFL Draft, which saw four guards get selected in the top 25 with two in the top 10. The 2017 NFL Draft was also a rare year, as no guards or centers were selected in the first round. The first guard didn’t come off the board until the 38th-overall pick when the Chargers took Forrest Lamp. A lot was made about the 2017 NFL Draft being weak at offensive tackle, but it was an odd year on the inside because there wasn’t a lot of interior talent either. One of the reasons for the lack of high-end talent was Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson deciding to return for his senior year.
If Nelson had declared for the 2017 NFL Draft, he would have been the top-rated guard and a first-round pick. Over 2015 and 2016, Nelson became a rock-solid blocker for Notre Dame, rolling the competition by being equally effective as a run blocker or pass protector. After deciding to return for his senior year, Nelson dominated for Notre Dame in 2017. He overwhelmed defensive linemen as a run blocker and pass protector while going against good competition.
Nelson is dominant in pass protection to the point that he almost never gave up a pressure much less a sack. He has a very strong base that stands up bull rushes with ease. Nelson also has the athleticism and quick feet to neutralize speed rushers and the length to keep defenders tied up. With his natural knee bend, Nelson is in great position to mirror rushers and adjust to counters. He uses strength to sustain blocks and keep opponents from getting free on second efforts. Nelson also dominates when he helps his tackle with a double team. Defensive ends are practically helpless to get free of the block when Nelson aides his tackle. For interior blitzes or stunts, Nelson adjusts quickly and is superb at eating up his defender. In the NFL, Nelson a real asset to win one-on-one blocks and allow the center to help the other guard with a double team.
In the ground game, Nelson is a true road grader with extremely heavy hands. He routinely uses his tremendous size and strength to push defensive linemen out of their gaps. Nelson can blast them off the ball and ride them around the field like they’re on roller-skates. Routinely, you would see him drive block a defensive tackle around the field before burying them with a pancake block. While Nelson is not supremely fast, he is quick enough to hit blocks at the second level and pulls well. In the NFL, Nelson is going to be a load as a run blocker and a real asset in short-yardage or goal-line situations. His team should have a lot of success running behind him.
After surveying sources from around the league, including multiple general managers, Nelson is a consensus elite prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. He is the most talented and polished offensive lineman in the draft class, regardless of position. Nelson looks like a lock for the top 10 and easily could go as top-five selection. He is probably the safest prospect in the draft class to develop into a good NFL starter, and he could be that as soon as Week 1 of his rookie year. Some team sources think that Nelson could be the best guard in the NFL early in his pro career and could be better than former Patriots All-Pro Logan Mankins. Some teams have told me they have higher grades on Nelson than they did on Mankins, David DeCastro and Brandon Scherff.
Player Comparison: Logan Mankins. The closest comparison to Nelson in the NFL in recent years is Mankins. Mankins was a dominant run blocker and pass protector during his prime years for New England. Nelson could be the same and, like Mankins, he will be a first-round pick.
NFL Matches: New York Giants, Indianapolis, Denver, Tampa Bay, Chicago and San Francisco
There are a number of potential homes for Nelson in the top 10 of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Giants have been mentioned as a possible landing spot as they need to upgrade their blocking front. At pick No. 3, the Colts could take Nelson, as their offensive line is still in need of upgrades after being a weakness for years. Nelson could form a dynamite interior tandem with Ryan Kelly, but Indianapolis has tons of other needs that will probably be the higher priority.
The Broncos are picking fifth overall and would make sense for Nelson. He would be a quick upgrade and help Denver in reestablishing a rushing attack. Tampa Bay needs to upgrade its offensive line and get the ground game going that it has lacked during the past couple of seasons. Nelson makes a ton of sense for the Buccaneers, and it would be surprising if they passed on him.
Chicago released veteran guard Josh Sitton, so Nelson would make a lot of sense for the Bears. San Francisco also needs to find multiple upgrades to its offensive line this offseason. It seems unlikely that Nelson would get to the 49ers’ first-round pick at No.9 overall, and it is even more unlikely that they would pass on him if he got there.
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