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.”