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Quenton Nelson is best prospect in 2018 NFL Draft class

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Texas
Quenton Nelson
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

At the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, 49 offensive linemen were in attendance, but just nine of those participants were collegiate guards. Of course, more than a handful of the 31 tackles brought in are likely to shift inside (estimated at least six will move), but you can see the disparity in the numbers. The interesting part in that equation was the fact that three guards drew considerably more interest - and were more highly regarded - than any other offensive linemen to venture to Indianapolis, as Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, Texas El-Paso’s Will Hernandez and Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn were under the spotlight, microscope and in Wynn’s case, under the MRI machine.

Nelson and Hernandez are heading toward draft Day 1 calls. Wynn can also join that group, if his medical re-check in mid-April shows marked improvement from surgery. Nevada’s plug-and-play blocker, Austin Corbett, could be the Giants’ “consolation prize” in Round 2, if they opt to bypass Nelson as the second overall pick. Corbett will be joined by Braden Smith of Auburn and Virginia Tech’s Wyatt Teller as guards to be selected before Day 2 concludes.

When the final day of the draft approaches, early calls are expected to be received by Iowa’s Sean Welsh, who is strongly being considered as a center, as well. Idaho State’s Skyler Phillips will soon follow, showing that he is fully recovered from a serious concussion that cost him half of the 2016 season.

Quenton Nelson - Notre Dame

The NFL Draft Report’s top-rated prospect, period! Nelson joins Walter Jones, Mike Munchak, Joe Thomas and Ron Yary as the only collegiate offensive linemen to ever receive a perfect 9.0 grade of The NFL Draft Report’s grading system. The top prospect in the 2018 draft, according to that scouting information service.

Blocking statistics...Based on review of game film by our scouting department...SGP-season grade percentage...GM-games played...PLAY-amount of snaps played in...KB-key blocks (pancake/ knock-downs)...TDB-touchdown resulting blocks (run/pass)...DWF-downfield blocks...PRS-pressures allowed... SKA-sacks allowed... TFL-tackles-for-loss allowed…PEN-penalties charged…High Grade Game-best graded game for the season.

Quenton Nelson Blocking Stats

STATS GM SGP PLAYS KB TDB DWF PEN QBH PRS SKA High Grade Game
STATS GM SGP PLAYS KB TDB DWF PEN QBH PRS SKA High Grade Game
2017 13 92.78 859 124 18 14 1 1 3 1 98%-Boston College

Body Structure... Nelson has a developing frame that could still carry more bulk with no loss in quickness. He has a thick upper body with broad shoulders, adequate muscle development, good arm length and strong hands. He has good lower body thickness with a big bubble, wide hips and developed thighs and calves. He looks a bit lean for his size, but has good leg drive and lower body strength to gain advantage and leverage coming off the snap.

Athletic Ability...The first thing you notice about Nelson is his quickness and flexibility in his kick slide. He has classic natural knee bend with good hip snap to redirect and mirror the edge rushers. He is nimble moving his feet in his pass set-up, retreating fluidly while maintaining body control. He shows good urgency and leg drive coming off the snap, demonstrating the knee bend to drop his weight well. He shows good strength to create and hold the rush lanes and is very consistent attaining strong anchor. His balance and flexibility allows him to change direction fluidly and shows very good acceleration when blocking into the second level. He is quick to readjust and plays on his feet, showing good body control and balance operating in space. His lower body flexibility lets him recover to anchor and he is very smooth changing direction to get in front on traps and pulls.

Football Sense...Nelson is a highly intelligent and instinctive athlete. It is very easy for him to learn and retain plays. He has experience at both left guard and tackle, along with knowing all of the assignments of his teammates and opponents. He brings an aggressive nature to his game, more like a defender’s mentality, yet plays in control and is not prone to mistakes (only seven penalties on 1,662 plays the last two years). He is quick enough to move to guard at the next level, especially with his field awareness and vision to easily spot stunts and games. In pass protection, he is very capable of locating and neutralizing the edge rushers (see 2017 Temple, Miami-Ohio and Stanford games). He excels at chipping to the second level and picks up coverage quickly. His grasp of the offensive scheme rivals that of his coaches and it is very rare to see him caught out of position due to his vision, alertness and feel for the flow of the play.

Athletic Report

Initial Quickness...Nelson is very quick coming off the snap, gaining position and generating movement to sustain. He is very fluid moving laterally and shows nimble feet to generate movement on traps and pulls. He shows very good in-line body control and agility, demonstrating a quick kick slide in pass protection. He is light on his feet for a player of his size and shows the quick reactionary skills to gain position vs. stunts and blitzes. He reaches the second level with good quickness and urgency. His very quick first step generates explosiveness on the rise and he is equally effective firing out on running plays or retreating to protect the pocket in passing situations.

Lateral Movement...Nelson generates very good foot quickness and lateral agility in his kick slide. He works his way in-line with an effortless stride and is quick to redirect vs. edge rushers. He stays low in his pads, dropping his weight to maintain balance and does a nice job of opening rush lanes on pulls and traps (see 2017 Temple, Boston College and Southern California games). With his improved hand placement, he was more than able to steer the edge rushers wide.

Balance/Stays On Feet...Nelson has the body frame and nimble feet to get in front of the edge rushers and maintains balance on the move. He has the upper body power to lock on and sustain, working hard to maintain position when working in-line. He has developed good nastiness in attempts to finish and has the foot movement agility to easily gain position and sustain, whether in running or passing situations. With his quickness and balance, he consistently covers defenders up. He has no problems getting his body low enough to attain leverage, especially with his impressive knee bend. He plays well on his feet and possesses the lateral agility and quickness to adjust and sustain blocks on the move. He showed marked improvement using his hands to press in 2017 (see Boston College, Miami-Ohio, Southern California games). Few offensive guards have the foot agility that Nelson displays when working into the second level. He consistently plays on his feet and plays with 110% effort, demonstrating an aggressive streak to finish.

Explosion/Pop...Nelson generates good hip and leg explosion coming off the snap. He consistently plays the game up on his feet and has the leg drive and low pad level to drive his man off the line of scrimmage with force. He is an explosive hip roller with the upper body strength to press and sustain vs. the bull rush. He has become much more active with his hands in attempts to wall off. He does a very good job of holding the rush lanes and creating movement into the second level. He knows how to combine his size, long reach, strength and quickness to generate good pop on contact. He uses his power well to gain leverage, create and hold the crease. He has the body lean to walk his defender off the ball and with his hip roll, he has more than enough strength to push and wall off. He also possesses the upper body strength to jolt and control his man.

Run Blocking...Nelson has that quick first step, above average body control, exceptional balance and good leg drive to walk his assignment off the snap. He is quick and agile enough to generate solid second level blocks and works hard to maintain the rushing crease (201 of his 317 knockdown blocks came in run support; see 2017 Boston College, Southern California and Navy contests). He shows ease-of-movement when redirecting and keeps his weight down and hips loose to flow with the play. He knows how to use his size to wall off and has the foot balance to sustain. You can see on film that Nelson comes off the snap with a hard charge, using his leg drive and foot balance to stay on his blocks. He has the lower body strength and explosion to consistently drive and create rush lanes, but he can also gain position and use his body to wall off and hold. He is a great incline blocker due to his ability to scope, but needs to be more active with his hands when trying to reach. He runs his feet well and has a good base with a very good understanding of taking proper angles when working along the perimeter. He is quick to gain position after the snap and takes very good angles to cut off on the second level. He is the best guard in the game on long pulls and working downfield.

Pass Blocking...Nelson shows very good foot quickness in his kick slide. He has exceptional knee bend and hip flexibility in his retreat and shows good patience waiting for the defender to attack rather than overextend and get knocked off balance. He has a strong hand punch to shock and jolt his opponent, but needs to do it with more consistency. When he gets his hands into his opponent, he has more than enough strength to sustain. With his lateral quickness, body control and balance, Nelson can easily readjust and mirror. He uses his arms adequately to separate and sustain, But, when he fails to stay active with his hands, he can be pushed back by a strong bull rush (is quick to recover, though). You see on film that he can shuffle his feet, slide laterally stay square with good balance and even on those rare occasions that he over-extends, his athletic agility allows him to recover instantly. His lateral slide lets him reach his cutoff point and readjust when working on the edge. His pass drop quickness lets him generate the depth needed to anchor. His quickness is evident in his slide and he is sudden to get to his reach point. He has that outstanding feet and balance to adjust and uses his arms well to extend and when anchoring.

Pulling/Trapping ...With Nelson’s foot speed, he is perfectly capable of pulling and trapping, showing the urgency to get to the second level and neutralize the linebackers. He is quick to reach the cut-off point and moves with ease through the rush lanes. He has the athletic agility to adjust down the line of scrimmage and when working in space. He is smooth in his lateral movements and can get in front quickly for a player of his size. The thing you see on film is his above average body control that he uses to execute blocks in space. He is generally used on in-line blocks due to his agility and quickness to pick up and contain defenders when blocking on the move. He demonstrates the footwork and balance to stay on his feet, move around and handle switch-offs. With his athleticism, he consistently plays with balance and body control. He is so sudden out of his stance that he can instantly ride up on a defender. He has the agility and body control to adjust in space.

Adjust on Linebacker Downfield...Nelson is very quick getting into the second level blocks (see 2017 Temple, Boston College, NC State and Wake Forest games). He is athletic moving in space and consistently makes adjustments on the move. When he attacks linebackers, he knows how to use his size to engulf the defender and pancake them (37 downfield blocks in three seasons). His agility is evident by the way he makes contact on open field defenders. He takes good angles to cut off at the second level and has the flexibility to adjust and pickup coverage working down the field. He is one of those rare athletes with an instinctive feel for the linebacker’s moves, executing crunching cut blocks to take the defender off his feet. He is best when leading on pulls and roll-outs, as few guards take the proper angles Nelson does in the second level.

Use of Hands/Punch...This is one of the areas that Nelson needed to work on and he showed marked improvement in 2017. He has a strong hand punch, but tended to use his body lean to get a push off the defender when working in close quarters. Now, he throws his hands with very good timing. He has learned to use his hand strength and long reach to press and keep defenders at bay. He showed in 2017 (see Boston College, Southern California and Navy games) that he can get good placement to control his man, but when he drops his hands to reload (see 2017 Miami, Fla. game), he is slow to recover. He has much better arm length as a senior and used his upper body strength to stun defenders with his punch. His ability to hit with power and pop on contact lets him consistently jolt and control his man. He has become much more dominate in attempts to gain position and replace in pass protection. He also has demonstrated better ability to lock on and steer on running plays.

Reactions/Awareness...Nelson has very quick reactions to pick up twists and games. He shows very good awareness to create the crease for the running game and the hip flexibility to position himself properly in pass protection. He has no problems mirroring and handling movement. His ability to hit on the move lets him dominates vs. the blitz and stunts. He is perfectly capable of sliding and cutting off the defender on the edge and can readjust and mirror due to his foot agility. He is a perfect fit at left tackle due to his ability to shuffle and slide his feet. Even when he is caught out of position, he is quick to recover. He is very quick reaching his pass-set point and is able to adjust when working in-line and on combo blocks. His lateral agility and change of direction skills allows him to get off the line of scrimmage and deliver punishing second level blocks. He plays on his feet and uses his hands to sustain. The thing you always see with Nelson is that he plays with total effort.

Compares To...Larry Allen-ex-Dallas Cowboys/Chris Snee-ex-New York Giants...It’s not like Nelson has a split personality, but like Allen, Nelson is a fire hydrant in the trenches - blessed with the wide hips, great wingspan, bear-like hand grip and just total aggression. Yet, you can see him blend in the chess master awareness and quick initial step that Snee displayed.