The Cleveland Browns head into the draft looking to take the best available player. Could that player be Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson?
The NFL is currently places a premium value on offensive linemen. Part of the reason for that valuation is the lack of developed offensive linemen at the collegiate level. Finding an offensive line prospect in the NFL draft is harder than finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. Which is why Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson’s stock has risen so high, and why the Cleveland Browns may want to kick the tires.
Nelson is an old school offensive lineman. This is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.
Nelson is often among the top-10 picks in current NFL mock drafts. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has him going as high as second overall to the New York Giants. Charles Davis and Chad Reuter have him going as low as eighth overall.
These spots in the draft seem unusually high for a left guard. But his level of play combined with the dire need of good offensive linemen in the NFL have made Nelson a hot ticket item.
If John Dorsey does decide to take the best available player at the fourth pick (assuming a QB at No. 1), then Quenton Nelson could be in play. With that, it might be fun to do a brief scouting report on Nelson.
There are too many strengths to list. If football was played in a phone booth, Quenton Nelson is the man you want fighting for you. Lining up and blocking the man over him is child’s play for Nelson.
His game is based on power. He has great explosion which translates into power firing straight out. Once he gets his hands on the defender it’s over. Nelson controls defenders extremely well. He stays on blocks and finishes. All these clichés mean that Nelson can fire out, get his block, generate movement off the line of scrimmage to create a hole then takes his man to the ground. His tape can get used to teach linemen the perfect technique of run blocking.
He excels at down blocking as well. Down blocking seeks to give the offensive lineman an angle on the defender. It is often used in power plays in conjunction with the other guard pulling around his block to secure a linebacker. Notre Dame ran a lot of power to the left to utilize Nelson’s run blocking ability. Nelson is NFL ready to block down on down linemen.
When asked to pull toward the right is another story. Nelson excels in close quarter combat but is less effective when asked to take angles on linebackers or pull across the line for a power scheme. This does not mean he is bad at it. But there is room for improvement.
When pulling, Nelson will sometimes take a bad angle at a defender causing him to miss. He is great with straight pulls down the line of scrimmage but getting to the second level is more difficult. He will lower his head and not see the defender. Or he will see the defender late and get beat to the point of attack. This also happens in zone schemes when he must get to the second level. This can be fixed at the NFL level and should not be a serious cause for concern.
When Neslon can line up one on one he is phenomenal. His explodes his hips and gets his hands on the defender. When he can square up on the defender, he can shut them down.
Nelson has a good eye for defenders within his pass protection. He understands his role in the scheme. He knows where defenders may be coming from and where his help lies. He also effectively switches defenders when the defensive linemen are stunting. This is not an easy skill and requires patience from the offensive lineman. Nelson will “look for work” when uncovered which is an excellent skill to have.
As with run blocking, Nelson’s pass protection is based on power. He is in his element when he can man up a guy and physically dominate him. His difficulty in pass blocking comes when dealing with speed. That speed can either be a smaller and quicker defensive lineman or blitzing linebackers.
The problem, as also with his pulling in the run game, is his vision. Nelson will sometimes drop his head and lose sight of his target. When he loses sight of the defender, he becomes susceptible to speed rushes or quick pass rush moves. His games against Wake Forest and Miami bear this out.
The prospects of the Browns taking Quenton Nelson seem small. They are currently set at the guard position with Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler. Adding a high end guard in the top-5 picks of the draft seems a little far-fetched at this point.
Nelson’s future in the NFL may be at right guard. He is an old school guard who can line up and beat anyone one-on-one. This makes him an ideal fit for a team running power schemes primarily to the right. He can bulldoze open holes for linemen to get to the second level. He can hold defensive linemen at the line in pass protection.
His future may be at right guard because of his old school traits. A left guard is primarily the one who pulls and kicks out defenders. The left guard is usually the quicker guard who takes on speed rushers.
He’s less efficient at pulling and getting up field. He sometimes misjudges angles when getting to the second level. As a left guard he has room to improve but he would still be a great player at the position.
Nelson is the quintessential old school offensive linemen. Any team that takes him will be getting a great player.