The Indianapolis Colts picked Quenton Nelson with the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, making the Notre Dame product one of the highest drafted guards in NFL history.
Plenty of players selected as offensive tackles wound up at guard when their career as a tackle didn’t pan out. A recent example was Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, who started at left tackle for the Jaguars, but has since become a guard who started for the Seahawks in 2017.
Nelson bucks the trend by being the first purely interior offensive lineman to land in the top six picks since Jim Dombrowski in 1986.
The only guards taken in the top 10 of the last 20 draft classes were Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack, who were selected No. 7 and No. 10, respectively, in the 2013 NFL Draft. Five years later, neither player is with the team that picked them.
Indianapolis will hope Nelson turns out to be better than Cooper and Warmack. Here are three reasons why they can be optimistic that he’ll live up to his high selection:
1. Nelson does everything well
This feels obvious. If there were significant holes in Nelson’s game, he wouldn’t be the first guard in more than three decades to get drafted so early.
But his level of dominance at the collegiate level really can’t be understated. He was No. 1 in the nation in Pro Football Focus’ run block success percentage and it showed when he consistently bulldozed players out of the picture with leverage and smooth technique.
You couldn’t block with better technique than Nelson here. Get off, leverage, hat/hands/hips and finish. Its pic.twitter.com/uW3k63ERFN— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) February 26, 2018
Nelson was also a great pass protector who gave up one quarterback hit in 412 pass blocking snaps during the 2017 season and just four in the 1,225 pass blocking snaps over the course of his three years at Notre Dame.
2. Nelson plays with a mean streak
Attitude is a good thing for offensive linemen and it’s safe to say nobody is going to intimidate Nelson. He spent much of his time at Notre Dame doing more than just blocking. He was on the hunt to dish out some pain.
Y’all keep acting like Quenton. Nelson didn’t do this too... pic.twitter.com/HAbxNIw8Xz— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) February 3, 2018
Sometimes he’d lay out players even if it wasn’t his assignment.
How about this for awareness from Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson?! One of 5 best players in this draft. pic.twitter.com/jrXlipnyZw— Todd McShay (@McShay13) February 9, 2018
“As a blocker, my mindset is being dominant,” Nelson told reporters at the NFL Combine. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play and finishing them past the whistle.”
Nelson’s not playing around.
3. Offensive lineman are becoming more valuable
Supply and demand affects value, and the supply on good offensive lineman is running low. As former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz explained in March, veteran linemen are cashing in big in free agency because spread offenses in college football are yielding fewer starting level players up front.
Here’s the short version of it — a college offense is almost nothing like a pro offense and the techniques being taught don’t translate to the NFL game. There are only a handful of schools that routinely use pro techniques, even in a “spread” offense, and those schools do produce pro-ready offensive lineman — Ohio State, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, USC, Iowa, Alabama, and maybe a few more.
Also a big factor in the lack of development is the decreased practice time in the NFL. I love when two-a-days ended, but they were important to developing offensive lineman. We are a position that needs as many full-speed reps that closely resemble game action. Full pads is the way to make this happen. We also need reps, reps, and more reps.
Once considered a dime a dozen, guards are receiving huge contracts in the NFL now because good players are to find. The Jacksonville Jaguars gave Andrew Norwell a five-year, $66.5 million deal earlier this offseason, and Kevin Zeitler received a five-year, $60 million deal from the Browns in 2017.
If Nelson lives up to his draft hype, he’s the type of player who is becoming more and more difficult to find. That’s why he was worth the No. 6 selection and why the Colts should have high hopes for the future of their offense.