INDIANAPOLIS — Quenton Nelson has earned some high praise in just two years in the NFL.
In each of his first two seasons, the Indianapolis Colts' left guard has been named a First-Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. He's widely considered one of the most intimidating players in the National Football League, and now he's being called one of its best — regardless of position.
Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson has compiled a list of their top 50 NFL players entering the 2020 season, and Nelson comes in at No. 4, trailing only Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (1), Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (2) and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (3). Monson writes:
"Quenton Nelson is the rare player who brings everybody together. Whether you study tape exclusively, data exclusively, dots exclusively or any combination thereof, everybody agrees Nelson is a superstar. In just his second season in the league, he earned a 91.2 overall PFF grade, didn't surrender a sack and was a dominant force as a run-blocker. Nelson was a bona fide star early in his college career, and there's a good chance he could get even better in 2020 and beyond."
Nelson made a strong impression on the league as a rookie in 2018, but he made clear improvements jumping into his second season. In 2018, his overall PFF grade was 74.3, which was tops among all rookie offensive linemen. In 2019, it elevated to 91.2.
That was good enough for Nelson to rank as the NFL's No. 2 overall offensive lineman last season, taking the top spot among all left guards as well.
In just two years, Nelson has more than proven his worth after some initially questioned Colts general manager Chris Ballard's decision to take the Notre Dame product at No. 6 overall in the 2018 NFL draft.
"I mean everybody said you can't take a guard at six. ... I heard it in a lot of different spots. But you take the best player, man. You take the best player," Ballard told reporters earlier this offseason. "Quenton Nelson was the best freaking player at that point in the draft. I'm not sure if he wasn't the best player in the entire draft. That to me, solidified it and said 'I don't care what position he's at. Take the best player.' I think we know the impact that kid has had."
Nelson's arrival changed the Colts' offensive culture, and it turned them into an imposing force — especially on the ground.
Since 2018, the Colts have the ninth-best rushing attack in the NFL at 120.3 yards per game, posting at least 150 rushing yards in 11 games in that time, including six 200-yard games.
The Colts are coming off of one of their best seasons running the ball in recent memory in 2019. Their 2,130 yards was the first time they hit the 2,000-yard mark since 1994, and their 4.52 yards-per-carry average was their fifth-best mark in team history.
Individually, Nelson was the third-best run-blocking offensive lineman in the NFL last season, earning a grade of 90.1.
While he's a grizzly bear as a run blocker, Nelson's abilities in pass protection are not far off, either.
Last season, he was the No. 14-ranked offensive lineman in pass blocking (82.8), and he was one of just 25 linemen to allow 20 or fewer total pressures on the quarterback, and one of nine to allow zero sacks.
It's still an area for opportunity for him to get even better, but he was already very, very good in that area.
And for how physical and "nasty" he plays, Nelson's game is actually pretty clean. He was one of only 25 offensive linemen in 2019 to be called for three or fewer penalties, which is an improvement over his seven penalties as a rookie.
Considering Nelson has only played two seasons, and a player's prime doesn't typically start until their third or fourth season, what level of dominance is still yet to be seen from big No. 56?