INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to the NFL Draft, it’s almost always the tackles, and particularly the left tackles, who get all the attention at the top of the first round.
Understandably, that’s just what happens when the guy is ultimately responsible for his quarterback’s blindside.
But rarely do the interior linemen, particularly the guards, get that same kind of love.
Quenton Nelson clearly breaks that mold.
Nelson, a Notre Dame product, isn’t just considered by most to be the best-overall offensive lineman in this year’s NFL Draft class — he could very well be one of the best interior linemen to come along in years.
Nelson, of course, would rather “let my play do all the talking, and my film do all the talking” when it comes to his potential landing spot in April’s NFL Draft. But because it’s so rare for guards to be considered a Top-5 pick, Nelson jumped a little deeper into the rationale some general managers might use to take him so high up.
“I think I should be talked in that regard, the top-five conversation, because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys, and you need guys to stop them,” Nelson said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “And I think I’m one of those guys.”
And, yes, tackles have their clear value, too. But to Nelson, today’s pass-heavy approach in the NFL means defenses are doing different things than just sending their best pass rushers off the edge.
“You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw, a lot of quarterbacks if given the opportunity can do that,” Nelson said. “That’s what I give is a pocket to step up in, and I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness and establishing the run also opens up the passing game, so I think it’s a good choice.”
“Built like a bank safe with wide hips, broad chest and powerful limbs,” is how Lance Zierlein describes Nelson in his NFL.com Draft Profile, and his measurements — 6 foot 5, 329 pounds — certainly back up those claims.
But the best offensive linemen have much more than measurables; they have attitude.
Nelson’s got plenty of that.
“As a blocker my mindset is being dominant,” he said. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play and finishing them past the whistle.
“Yeah, I would consider myself a nasty player.”
Nelson could certainly be an interesting option for the Indianapolis Colts, who have the No. 3-overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft and are looking to drastically improve their play up front under new head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
But wherever he lands, Nelson wants to continue to prove that guards are just as valuable as any other key position.
“Whatever offensive line I join, what I want to do is keep my head down, work very hard, learn a lot from the older guys and earn their respect through my work ethic and how I carry myself day in and day out,” he said. “And then we’ll take it from there.”