'Nasty' Quenton Nelson could break offensive guard mold in NFL draft

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INDIANAPOLIS — Speaking in a monotone that made it almost difficult to believe what came out of his mouth, the NFL draft’s top offensive lineman gave a self-assessment using the same term many have employed to define his style of play.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Quenton Nelson speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center.

“Yeah,” Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine, “I would consider myself a nasty player.”

But is an interior offensive lineman really worth a top 10 selection in the NFL draft?

The last guard to be taken in that range was Jonathan Cooper, whom the Arizona Cardinals drafted No. 7 overall in 2013 (Chance Warmack also went No. 10 to the Tennessee Titans in the same year). And not since 2001, when the Cardinals selected Leonard Davis at No. 2, has a player at the position gone in the top five. 

Nelson, however, has a pointed pitch.

“I think I should be talked about in that regard — in the top-five conversation — because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, that have just been working on interior guys,” Nelson said.

“And you need guys to stop them. I think I’m one of those guys. You talk to quarterbacks and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine. They can step into the pocket and make a throw. A lot of quarterbacks, if given the opportunity, can do that. That’s what I give – a pocket to step up in. I also think I help the offense establish the run with my nastiness, and establishing the run also opens up the passing game.

“So I think it’s a good choice.”

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According to Pro Football Focus, which grades players at each position, six different playoff teams were represented among the list of the top-10 rated guards with at least 1,000 snaps. The New England Patriots boasted two players in the top 10.

The Dallas Cowboys' Zack Martin, the site's top player at the position, did not make the postseason this year, but he has been an instrumental figure in establishing one of the most productive rushing squads in the league.

“I’m always open to good players at whatever position they come,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said Wednesday. “Guards are getting paid a lot in free agency. We found that out with (former Bengals and current Browns guard Kevin) Zeitler. Whether they change your fortunes or not as a team is the debatable point.

“The question was more specifically on Quenton Nelson. Quenton is as fine a college football player as I’ve seen in a long time, as complete as I’ve seen. I’m not sure Quenton can’t play any of the five spots up front. We’ll see where he ultimately lines up as a rookie and second-year player. It’s a philosophical question: Do guards matter? Every position matters on the field. He certainly has earned his way to the top of this draft, for sure.”

Versatility and position fit could play a sizable role in where Nelson is ultimately taken.

Nelson said he felt more comfortable at guard, but added that he thinks he has “the fundamentals and characteristics to play any position on the offensive line.” He also pointed out that none of the teams he has spoken to have approached him about playing tackle.

Multiple NFL executives this week have lauded the depth of the interior linemen in this draft class. Though Nelson is likely the first offensive linemen to hear his name called in the draft, the next might be his teammate, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey.

“You’re probably not going to get a better teammate,” McGlinchey said of Nelson. “He’s a phenomenal player, phenomenal person. Cares as much as anybody in the building, works as hard as anybody in the building and when he gets into the meeting room, when he steps across those white lines, he’s a different animal.”

Even before his on-field testing Friday, Nelson has already made an impression at the combine. His 35 repetitions on the bench press represented one of the top marks on the day for the offensive linemen.

“As a blocker, my mindset is being dominant,” Nelson said. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game on each play and finishing them past the whistle.”

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.


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