Bears

What makes Quenton Nelson great? The guys who faced him in college explain

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USA Today

What makes Quenton Nelson great? The guys who faced him in college explain

INDIANAPOLIS — Quenton Nelson could break a common thought in NFL circles that guards aren’t worth high draft picks, given it’s generally easier to find a solid guard than it is a solid tackle. But the 6-foot-5, 329 pound bruiser isn’t just a solid player; he has all the makings of an elite player, the kind of guy who solidifies a position for a decade. 

Nelson offered a pretty good sales pitch for himself last week, pointing to the importance of interior linemen in a league in which guys like the Rams’ Aaron Donald and the Eagles’ Fletcher Cox are such disruptive forces. The Bears probably don’t need the pitch, given offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows the ins and outs of Nelson’s game after coaching him at Notre Dame for the last four years. 

But if anyone needs any convincing on Nelson’s talent, take it from some of the guys who had to face him in college: He really is *that* good. 

Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said Nelson was the best player he faced in his college career. Phillips is training for the draft with Nelson in San Diego, and offered this analysis at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Saturday:

“He’s very sound with his technique,” Philips said. “He has great technique. And his passion for the game is a reason why he’s successful. It’s all those steps he takes.”

Georgia’s NFL-bound interior duo — Trenton Thompson and John Atkins — were similarly complimentary of Nelson, even though the Bulldogs largely were able to shut down Notre Dame’s offense when the two teams met last September. 

“He’s a great offensive lineman,” Thompson said. “He’s got good willpower.”

Atkins saw some clips of Nelson’s punishing blocks here and there — like him piledriving this LSU player into the turf — and was happy to say he didn’t wind up on Nelson’s highlight reel. 

“I saw a lot of it,” Atkins said. “I was like, man, he’s a really good player.”

N.C. State nose guard B.J. Hill faced Nelson twice in his college career — once in the soggy midst of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and another in more favorable conditions in 2017 — and said matching up with a player of Nelson’s caliber helped build his own confidence as he takes the next step in his career.

“I can play with anybody, because he’s one of the best guards in the nation,” Hill said. “I feel like I can play with anybody if I can play with him.”

And Miami’s R.J. McIntosh, who got the best of Nelson a few times but also got driven into the turf during the Hurricanes’ win over the Irish in November, specifically pointed to Nelson’s strength as the toughest part of facing him. 

“He’s a great player,” McIntosh said. “He always tried — he was physical. He never let you just do anything to him. That kind of stood out to me from anybody else or any O-line. The whole O-line was good, but him as a player, he’s a great player.”

Bears show interest in Tulsa pass rusher Trevis Gipson

Bears show interest in Tulsa pass rusher Trevis Gipson

It's early (extremely early) in the 2020 NFL draft process, and the Bears' team needs between now and when their first pick (No. 43 overall) is on the clock are certain to change. The general consensus right now is that offensive line, tight end and quarterback will be early draft targets, but edge rusher can't be overlooked.

Leonard Floyd's failure to emerge as the pass rusher the Bears need to complement Khalil Mack is a bigger problem than GM Ryan Pace or coach Matt Nagy want to admit. In fact, Floyd's ineffective style of play could cost Chicago a chance at becoming a truly elite defense and potentially limit the astronomical upside Mack has as a generational talent.

If the Bears decide to pull the fifth-year option from Floyd, they'll have no choice but to attack the position early in the 2020 draft. It appears like they're doing their homework for that scenario, too.

Bears scouts met with Tulsa edge rusher Trevis Gipson at length following Wednesday's Senior Bowl practice, an indication that the position is at least high enough on their wish list that extensive homework on pass rushers is being done.

Gipson helped his draft stock at the Senior Bowl and was an early winner among edge rushers at the game. His practice reps confirmed his tape; the dude knows how to get to the quarterback. He had eight sacks in 2019 and plays with a high-energy style that's certain to entice Chicago's coaching staff. He isn't an elite athlete, but he has an appealing frame (34-inch arms) and powerful hands.

Gipson began the week as a late-Day-3 prospect. He helped his stock and may have jumped a round or two along the way.

Bears' rookie class ranked 8th-best in NFL

Bears' rookie class ranked 8th-best in NFL

The Bears didn't have much of a rookie class in 2019. Last April's draft produced just five picks, two of which didn't appear in a regular-season game for the Bears.

But the production of running back David Montgomery was enough to carry the rookie class to a top-10 ranking, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Bears checked-in at 8th.

The Bears have a strange class. They had only five picks, none before Round 3, with three of those five selections coming after Round 6. As a result, their expected return was low. Running back David Montgomery was really the only Bears' rookie to play significant snaps, and he managed to provide enough return from his third-round selection to land them at No. 8.

It's pretty remarkable that Chicago's 2019 rookie class -- essentially, Montgomery -- garnered this much respect from PFF. Wide receiver Riley Ridley showed signs of life late in the season and cornerback Duke Shelley will be given an opportunity to carve out a role on defense next season, but with running back Kerrith Whyte, Jr. and cornerback Stephen Denmark making no impact whatsoever (Whyte is no longer with the team), the 2019 class won't be remembered as one that laid a championship foundation in Chicago.

Sure, Montgomery has a chance to become one of the NFL's more talented starting running backs (he ended his rookie season with 889 yards and six touchdowns), but if Ridley and Shelley don't turn into legitimate contributors in 2020 or 2021, the class will go down as an epic failure for GM Ryan Pace.

Remember: The Bears didn't have a first-round pick because of the trade for outside linebacker Khalil Mack. That's a win for Pace, but it doesn't change the fact that he had five selections at his disposal and ended up with what appears to be just one impact player after their rookie seasons.