The average draft position of the first interior offensive lineman (guard/center) selected over the last 10 years is 22nd. While offensive tackles are routinely taken in the top 5 of a given draft, a guard or center being picked in the top 10 is a rare occurrence. In fact, only 26 guards and centers have been picked in the first round since 2002.
This year, Quenton Nelson, a guard out of Notre Dame, will be selected in the top 10 and potentially even top 5 of the NFL draft. Mel Kiper has Nelson as the number 4 player on his big board and many experts have gone as far to say that Nelson is one of the best guard prospects to ever come out of college. This is a considerable amount hype for a player who plays one of the most unsung and least-talked about positions on the football field. I am here today to tell you that the hype is real.
Throughout my career as an offensive lineman in college I took great interest in watching other offensive lineman on tape. Despite the fact that I was watching the film in order to analyze our opponents defense, I would always take note of the other teams offensive line. The best OT’s that I ever watched were: Taylor Decker, Taylor Lewan, Ryan Ramczyk and Brandon Scherff. If I had to pick between them as to who was the best, I would probably say Decker in the pass game and Scherff in the run game. But, if you were to ask me who the best guard I ever watched was, without any hesitation, the answer is Quenton Nelson.
There are a lot of things that stand out about Nelson when you watch him on tape. But, above anything, the first thing that jumps of the screen is Nelson’s aggressiveness and violence when finishing blocks. He does this better than any offensive lineman that I have ever watched on film by a wide, wide margin. You do not have to be an expert to see this and understand that what you are looking at is special, see below:
This is the stuff of an OL coach’s wet dream. Nelson, time after time, displays the attitude to strain to finish (I just had a traumatic flashback to all of the 1000 times I had that phrase yelled at me) and the rare physical strength to act upon it. Nelson is simply not satisfied on a given play until he has planted you into the ground. Even on plays where he does not come out of the gates firing and he is stalemated, he just does not stop pressing until the defenders will is broken and he is lying on top of you.
Still, there are big, strong, nasty O-lineman coming out of college every year. What separates Nelson is his ability to combine this brute force and aggression with exceptional technique.
Take the play I posted above against Miami:
Nelson would not be in a position to finish his defender into the ground 7 yards from the line of scrimmage if he didn’t start the play with near-picture perfect run blocking technique. The three things to look at are Nelson’s hands, hips and feet. Nelson keeps his feet apart through the entire duration of the play, snaps his hips on contact and shoots his hands right under the defenders chest plate to control the block. This is the type of block that you see on a high school highlight tape of a kid going D1, not against high level D1 players.
I say this without a shred on hyperbole, the below play is one of the single best plays I have ever seen an offensive lineman make in a game:
One of the phrases that gets drilled into your head as an offensive linemen is ‘find work’. If you aren’t doing anything, you are hurting the team. This mantra is especially important for guards in pass protection as many times they are not in 1 on 1 situations. When the guy in Nelson’s zone slants out to the tackle, he is left without work. Ideally, he would slam back into the center and create a chain reaction that would eventually push the right tackle to the blitzing linebacker, but, Nelson realizes this is not currently feasible given how fast the blitzer is coming. Instead, he takes matters into his own hands, runs to the other side of the formation and delivers a kill shot. Special stuff.
Sure, he can deliver punishing blows, toss people on the ground and even use good technique while doing it, but what about the little stuff? Well, friend, I’m glad you asked:
1 on 1 pass protection:
1 on 1 drive blocks:
It is plays like this that make Nelson arguably the best guard prospect in the last 15 years. This is the most basic thing you can ask a guard to do, a 1 on 1 drive block. And what does he do? He drives his man 5 yards off the ball. Again, look at his feet, hips and hands. You could legitimately not draw up more perfect run blocking technique.
Pulling and blocking in open space:
One more pancake for good measure:
Playing offensive line can be paradoxical; your aggressiveness must be coupled with both patience and deft technique. Be over aggressive, at the wrong times, and you will have nightmares about the swim moves that D-lineman throw on you. Nelson toes this line between technique and sheer violence artfully. Take the play above for example. Nelson does not come out the gates like a bull in a china shop. Instead, he stays on his zone angle, tracking the linebacker, until the point of contact, where he then aggressively delivers a beautiful two handed punch and finishes him into the ground.
I could keep going, showing more and more clips, but that would get repetitive and you would probably lose interest when I start rambling about how beautiful his pass set was against an inside shaded defensive tackle. So I will close my pseudo love letter to a college kid with this:
Legendary Redskins offensive lineman Russ Grimm has a famous quote about offensive play, saying its about “Moving a man, from point A, to point B, against his will”. Quenton Nelson embodies this sentiment more so than any offensive lineman to come out of college this side of Orlando Pace. No matter where he is taken, the team drafting Quent0n Nelson will not regret their decision.