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Crabbs | Quenton Nelson displays ideal toughness

SEP 17 Michigan State at Notre Dame
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Crabbs | Quenton Nelson displays ideal toughness

The Notre Dame offensive line touts two potential first round draft selections for the 2018 NFL Draft. Left Tackle Mike McGlinchey is joined by Left Guard Quenton Nelson to give the Irish one of the most potent pair of offensive linemen in the country. In my recent film assessment of Nelson, I was immediately drawn to his physical style of play. It’s impossible not to notice the raw power that Nelson is able to apply to the field; he’s resetting the line of scrimmage and anchoring against power rushers on a weekly basis.

Why does it matter? Physicality and toughness along the interior is essential for linemen. Without a stern anchor and powerful hands, defenders are provided a direct line to pressure the quarterback. Interior defenders aren’t as renowned for their ability to wreck a game plan as their EDGE counterparts, but poor interior play is the quickest way to watch an offensive unit unravel; regardless of whether it’s playing pass or run.

Nelson’s tenacious demeanor usually results in defenders getting erased entirely. In my sampling of his on the field resume, I failed to find a single more impressive physical feat than absorbing (and countering) this bull rush by former Michigan State defender Malik McDowell:

Nelson’s hands are late getting out of his holster and as a result he eats McDowell’s facemask at first contact. McDowell is a player with pretty special burst and explosiveness for his size; so it’s no wonder catching the full brunt of that initial get off forces Nelson to give some ground. But then, some outstanding leverage work. Nelson works his hands late into the chest of McDowell and bows his back to roll hips and decelerate.

Once Nelson’s anchor drops and he regains control, he does what he’s going to be known for throughout his career, however long it lasts: he finishes. McDowell makes a haphazard attempt to peel off and pursue QB Deshone Kizer but fails to address Nelson’s grip on his numbers. Nelson transitions out of his anchor and into an aggressor, fork-lifting McDowell’s frame and ragdolling him to the ground.

McDowell isn’t the caliber player to get tossed around like this, yet here we are. If it’s any consolation for the new Seattle Seahawk, he’s hardly the only one Quenton Nelson buried last season.

In a short yardage scenario against Stanford, Nelson is the first to establish contact at the point of attack and subsequently washes out the defensive tackle. Not only does he pin and seal; Nelson’s power and functional athleticism allow him to carry that initial push all the way across the offensive formation. It’s one thing to pack that level of punch, but to have enough mobility to stay sticky on such an overwhelming strike and first blow is a pretty special pairing.

In a slop-fest against North Carolina State (played in Hurricane Matthew), Nelson struggled at times to find his footing; as did every player on the field. But he did manage to stay firmly engaged on bodies in the box once engaged, something that extended beyond drive blocks and into additional elements of power football, such as this pulling block in the alley.

Don’t read too much into that deliberate first step. But look how well Nelson accelerates into the block, rolls his hips through contact and the tenacity illustrates to play through the whistle. These are the kinds of things coaches want to be able to hang their hat on as a running game.

“We want to be tough and physical to set the tone!” 

“Play THROUGH the whistle!”

Nelson does all with this block and I personally love the little extra at the end of the play. The game of football can be taxing, especially when someone imposes their will on you. It’s something Nelson does well and the assertion that he knows it can wear on defenders. But being tough only gets you so far. You need to have technique to apply yourself fully. It just so happens Nelson shows great hand fits, base of support and body positioning as a point of attack blocker as well.

Check out how quick Nelson is to shoot his hands and establish contact with the defensive tackle here from the same game. The helmet placement, hand shoot and drive up the field to not catch the defender are all textbook. Nelson does get a chip from teammate Mike McGlinchey before the left tackle climbs to the second level, but Nelson’s hand strength is already torquing the defender out of the running lane.

Nelson does very well to work his hips around the body of the defender to appropriately frame his opponent’s body and stay balanced and square as he seals the alley.

Quenton Nelson isn’t a player without some minor flaws, but by and large he’s the type of offensive lineman that can help give a team an identity on offense. His physical brand of football pairs terrifically with his functional athleticism and length to create a highly enticing package for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Kyle Crabbs

Kyle Crabbs is the founder/Director of Scouting of NDT Scouting Services, a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the lead NFL Draft analyst for the FanRag Sports Network.

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