Notre Dame could very easily produce the top player at two spots on the offensive line this year.
Quenton Nelson is built like a house, but he moves like a ballerina. Very few human beings that weight 320+ pounds can move like Nelson does. The pure athleticism of Nelson would likely make him a 1st or 2nd round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, Nelson attends Notre Dame, a college that has a track record of producing technical offensive linemen. Nelson fits perfectly into that mold, he very rarely has to rely on athleticism to get back into position.
Unlike the tackle position just being a good pass protector won’t suffice in the NFL. Nelson excels as a run blocker, which isn’t a surprise at his size. The first place where Quenton Nelson excels is pad level, Nelson comes out of the blocks low and with great leverage. Coming from a college that asks offensive linemen to put a hand in the dirt is a huge advantage for players at Notre Dame.
When Nelson comes off the ball he does so with a ton of power. Double teams are regularly road graters, moving defensive linemen off the ball with ease. Even on solo blocks, he has enough power to blow defenders off the ball. However, Nelson’s game isn’t limited to power, he is surprisingly efficient at the 2nd and 3rd level of the defense. Nelson climbs to the second level while he remains smooth and square. Very rarely does he lunge to get a block, and he shows a good understanding of angles for cutoff blocks. You can tell when looking at the Notre Dame offensive line that they are very well coached.
Nelson also has some intangibles you look for in offensive linemen. Nelson has the awareness to find another defender to block once he finishes his first block. He also has the mean streak to try and finish every single block. Pancakes aren’t a “stat” that most track, but more so an indicator. If a lineman has a ton of pancake block it means that he values finishing his blocks.
One thing that benefits Quenton Nelson in his pass protection is his size. Standing at 6’5″ 325 pounds, Nelson is too wide for defenders to go around in the trenches. Nelson also has enough size to anchor himself with ease, which makes it very difficult for the defender to get to the quarterback. Most guards that have the size Nelson posses struggle in space, however that may be one of Nelsons biggest selling points to NFL teams.
Nelson moves laterally very well for a guard, regardless of size. For someone of his stature, he moves with incredible agility. Nelson gets left alone on an island at Notre Dame, so he has to cover a lot of ground side to side against defenders, and he very rarely gets beat. There are occasions where he is beat, but that is because there is an unreal amount of grass for the defender.
Another place where he excels is stunt recognition. Many college offensive linemen cannot identify a stunt and want to stay locked on to their initial block. However, Nelson keeps his head on a swivel and does an excellent job of seeing looping defenders. Once Nelson has his hands on a defender it is game over. Nelson has vice grips for hands and can lock down anyone who gets near him.
Quenton Nelson is more than likely going to be the first guard drafted in this year’s draft. The NFL doesn’t value interior offensive linemen like it should. However, Nelson has a shot to be drafted in the top 10. That says everything you need to know about just how talented Nelson is.
Pro Comp: Brandon Brooks, OG, Philadelphia Eagles