Throughout the summer, National Scout Jon Ledyard, Assistant Director Joe Marino and Scouting Director Kyle Crabbs will be conducting summer assessments on 99 notable senior prospects. Of these 99 seniors, the 33 most prominent will be covered by all three analysts.
Of the remaining 66, each of the three analysts has “drafted” 22 of them to scout exclusively.
This serves as the foundation for our 2018 draft assessments.
Scout: Jon Ledyard
Name: Quenton Nelson
Position: Offensive Guard
Date of Birth: N/A
College: Notre Dame
High School: Red Bank Catholic (NJ)
Games Played: 24
Games Started: 23
Team Captain: Yes (2017)
Production: N/A (Offensive Lineman)
High School: Consensus four-star prospect. Second-team offensive lineman on USA Today All-USA prep All-America squad for 2013. Offers from 29 other schools, including Ohio State, Wisconsin, Stanford, Penn State, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma.
College: Starter on an offensive line that was a finalist for the Joe Moore award in 2015. 2016 second team All-American by Sports Illustrated. 2017 preseason first team All-American by Sports Illustrated. 2016 third team All-American by the Associated Press.
Strengths: Tremendous size and a thick, powerful frame with NFL-ready development. Devastating power and aggression in the run game. Drives low off the ball to uproot defensive linemen and create movement at the point of attack. Ideal fit for a gap/power scheme due to his explosiveness and space-creating ability up front. Hands win inside consistently and grapple opponents to death. Sustains contact brilliantly in the run game, brings lower half into blocks to combine with absurdly powerful grip strength. Shocks defenders with a thunderous initial punch in pass protection. Uses full arm extension to keep opponents off his frame. Power rushers can forget about it. Anchors and fights off bull rushes beautifully. Re-directs his hands quickly to sustain chest control. Consistently wins first contact in pass protection, allowing him to dictate the rep. Excellent footwork and initial burst out of his stance to win reach blocks on inside zone. Takes strong angles to the second level when working off double teams or on zone runs. Enough movement skills and power to be an effective puller with a few technical enhancements. No plays off, ever.
Weaknesses: Not a waist-bender, but a forward leaner in pass protection due to aggressive nature. Often does not take kick slides, opting for jump sets that will put him in vulnerable positions against quicker interior pass rushers. Leaves himself susceptible to push-pulls and swims by pass rush savvy opponents. Wide base in pass protection aids him against power rushers, but will cause struggles when asked to re-direct against rushers who might get on his edge. A little heavy-footed in space, which could be an issue when he doesn’t win right away in pass protection. Will fire out off the ball as a run blocker, but often does so with his head/eyes down, again opening himself up for swims and pulls. Can take his angles a bit tighter as a puller and come into blocks more under control. Doesn’t quite have the range and movement skills to be a great downfield blocker for screens and such.
Summary: You’ll be hard pressed to find a more devastating run blocker in this or any class than Nelson, who buries defenders on a regular basis with some of the best finishing ability in the class. He’s a joy to watch, getting his hands inside defenders to gain chest control from a low, leveraged position, and then driving his legs through contact to uproot his opponent and create space in the run game. Nelson manhandled just about everyone he came in contact with last season, from nose tackles to linebackers and everything in between. It’s not an over exaggeration to say he had 10-15 legitimate pancake blocks against Michigan State.
While I love Nelson’s aggressive nature and ridiculous grappling strength, he’ll abandon proper technique at times, firing out off the snap with his head down, leaving himself susceptible to swims and edge maneuvers from quicker interior defensive linemen. Nobody is going through Nelson, but at times defenders get around him, not because he isn’t quick, but because he drops his eyes and lunges slightly out of control.
Similar issues come up in pass protection, where Nelson displays some good and bad traits. He has a strong tendency to jump set opponents, so kick slides in a typical 45-degree set in the NFL may need some work. Nelson loves to end the fight early, with a quick initial punch and the ability to drop anchor against power rushers. You’re not going through him, it just ain’t happening.
But his aggressive set can get him into trouble on pass obvious downs where defenders know what to expect from him. His quick punch and forward lean can be maneuvered around by a swim or push-pull. Attacking his edges is the key, as Nelson commits forward too early at times, making recovery nearly impossible.
I think this is the area that will be the biggest adjustment for him in the NFL, similar to how other mauling linemen like Gabe Jackson and Joshua Garnett have at times struggled with the same matchups. When quicker defensive linemen with an advanced pass rush plan face Nelson, they aren’t gonna run into him all day like his opponents in college. He’s going to need to enhance his footwork to create half-man relationship and take away two-way go moves rather than attacking on every play.
If Nelson can do that, I think you’re talking about an offensive guard with enough athleticism to pull and the power and clean footwork to thrive as a gap scheme or inside zone blocker. He’s probably best utilized in the former, but the latter was often run at Notre Dame, and Nelson performed admirably within the scheme. He’s a starting NFL guard who is still recognizing his upside, and if he can clean up some things in pass protection and vary his sets this season, we might be talking about a first round pick next spring.
Predicted Value Range: 2nd Round