Why 'nasty' Quenton Nelson could be worth the No. 8 pick for the Bears

Why 'nasty' Quenton Nelson could be worth the No. 8 pick for the Bears

INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe we all should listen to New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman as the debate rages in Chicago about if an interior offensive lineman — specifically, Notre Dame mauler Quenton Nelson — is worth a top-10 pick. 

“At the end of the day, if he’s a great player, he’s a great player — it doesn’t matter what position it is,” Gettleman said this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “… Sometimes I think it gets lost in the sauce that football is the ultimate team game. You blow a whistle and 11 guys have to go out there, both offense and defense and special teams. Everybody has to understand that every player is important.”

Gettleman offered this perspective when asked if the No. 2 overall pick — where his Giants sit — is too high to draft a running back like Penn State standout Saquon Barkley. But let’s apply the same logic to the Bears at No. 8. 

Is Nelson a great player? By just about every account, yeah, he is. Take this description of what it’s like to play with Nelson offered by former Notre Dame running back Josh Adams: It’s like “running behind a tow truck.” Mike McGlinchey, the ex-Irish left tackle who could be a first-round pick, too, said Nelson is “about as nasty as they come.” 

Don’t believe them? Here’s some tape: 

There’s little doubting Nelson’s ability here at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis — that’s not the issue, certainly not for a Bears team that hired Nelson’s college position coach, Harry Hiestand, to coach its offensive line. It wouldn’t be a surprise if re-uniting Hiestand and Nelson produced a decade of stability with a handful of Pro Bowl selections sprinkled in there. 

The question, then, for the Bears — and the seven teams picking ahead of them — is this: Is it worth it to take a guard in the first 10 picks of a draft, even if he's great player?

In the last 20 years, 33 offensive linemen have been top-10 draft picks. Three of those were guards; the other 30 were tackles. Some, like two-time Washington Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff, played tackle in college but were quickly moved to guard once they were drafted. But the point is: It’s extremely rare for a guard to be selected as a top-10 pick. That’s the nature of a position where the thought is it’s easier to find solid players than it is at tackle. 

Nelson, though, offered this defense Thursday of himself for being, specifically, a top-five pick:

“I think I should be talked in that regard, the top five conversation because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys and you need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys,” Nelson said. “You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw, a lot of quarterbacks if given the opportunity can do that. That’s what I give is a pocket to step up in, and I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness and establishing the run also opens up the passing game, so I think it’s a good choice.”

That’s a pretty good sales pitch. But maybe there’s another way Nelson can sell himself as a top pick: Does he have the flexibility to play tackle?

Nelson said no teams have talked to him about switching from guard to tackle yet, but he was recruited to Notre Dame as a tackle. More importantly: Nelson, while redshirting in 2014, practiced as a tackle under Hiestand’s watch; maybe he would’ve stayed there had Notre Dame not had two future first-round picks as its starting tackles in 2015 (Ronnie Stanley, who was the sixth overall pick in 2016, and McGlinchey, who’s likely a first-round pick in 2018). 

“I’m definitely more comfortable at guard, that’s the position that I’ve played in college for three years,” Nelson said. “But what I do have is the fundamentals and characteristics to play any position on the offensive line.”

So perhaps the Bears could view Nelson as someone who fills an immediate need at guard, but later in his career could move to tackle. That would certainly up his value and lessen questions about taking an interior offensive lineman so high. 

But wherever Nelson winds up, he’s a good bet to be successful not just because of his physical traits, but because of his approach to every aspect of the game — film study, meetings, practice, you name it. Nelson is one of those football junkies who has the elite physical traits to become great. 

His nasty streak certainly helps, too. 

“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 by each play and finishing them past the whistle. … Yeah, I would consider myself a nasty player.”

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.

See how they stack up: Week 9 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 9 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 9 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Georgia (8-0)

The Dawgs are just beating up on everyone, most recently clubbing Florida 42-7 in the Cocktail Party. It looks like a no-doubt collision course with Bama for the SEC crown — but Georgia’s actually beaten some teams.

2. Alabama (8-0)

The Tide are obviously rolling and beating the brains out of everyone. They’ve allowed more than 10 points in just two of their eight games. But their best win to this point is … Texas A&M?

3. Notre Dame (7-1)

The Irish continue to run all over any and every team that lines up across from them, most recently dispatching of a good NC State team in impressive fashion. Josh Adams has 1,169 rushing yards on the season, which is a lot.

4. Ohio State (7-1)

There might not be a more impressive win this season than what the Buckeyes did against Penn State on Saturday. J.T. Barrett looked like the best quarterback in the country in leading an 18-point comeback and jaw-dropping one-point win.

5. Penn State (7-1)

Despite a narrow loss in The Shoe, the Lions might still be the Big Ten’s best team on a neutral field. But now they’ll need Ohio State to lose to get to that neutral field in Indianapolis.

6. Wisconsin (8-0)

Style points were in short supply in a snooze-worthy win over Illinois this weekend, though an offensive lineman did score a touchdown. Still, the Badgers are undefeated and barring a shocking loss will have a chance to play for a Playoff spot in the Big Ten title game.

7. Oklahoma (7-1)

There would be no upset bid for Texas Tech this weekend, and Baker Mayfield and the Sooners were back to looking the part of Big 12 heavyweight. And thanks to TCU’s loss, they’re once more the team to beat.

8. Miami (7-0)

Somehow the Canes are still unbeaten despite coming very close to losing numerous times throughout the last few weeks. That included sweating out a win over one-win North Carolina this weekend.

9. Clemson (7-1)

With Kelly Bryant healthy, Clemson looks like itself. With undefeated Miami teetering and a win over Virginia Tech already in the bank, this could be the Tigers’ ACC to lose once more.

10. TCU (7-1)

You don’t just walk into Jack Trice Stadium and walk out with a win! The Frogs were the latest victims of the Attack of the ‘Clones, and so now their inside lane to the Big 12 title is gone.

11. Oklahoma State (7-1)

Bedlam ought to be fun this week, as Mason Rudolph & Co. got their mojo back and rained 50 points down upon West Virginia this weekend. Hopefully the balls aren’t as slick as they were in Morgantown. So many turnovers.

12. Virginia Tech (7-1)

The Hokies just keep going about their business, unbeaten in all seven of their games not against Clemson. That includes a current three-game winning streak where they’ve outscoring opponents 106-20.

13. Washington (7-1)

The Pac-12 is in full-blown nightmare mode with what seems like no good Playoff contenders. Washington has the best chance with its one-loss record, but is anyone thinking the Pac-12 gets somebody into the final four right now?

14. Iowa State (6-2)

Matt Campbell’s ‘Clone army is slaying Big 12 giants left and right these days. If only Iowa State hadn’t lost in overtime to Iowa, it’d be a top-10 team right now. The ‘Clones are currently tied atop the Big 12 standings with wins over Oklahoma and TCU — two of the teams they’re tied with.

15. UCF (7-0)

After USF’s loss this weekend, UCF is the Group of Five’s last remaining unbeaten. And the Knights are a darn good one, too, averaging 51 points a game for the FBS’ best offense.

16. Stanford (6-2)

Without Bryce Love, the Trees were horrendous against a real bad Oregon State team and needed a late touchdown to sneak out of Corvallis with a 15-14 win. Ugh. Get well soon, Bryce.

17. NC State (6-2)

The Wolfpack’s six-game win streak finally got busted by what looks like a juggernaut of a Notre Dame team. And now comes Clemson. And to think they could’ve had a shot at a 10-win regular season if not for a confounding opening-week loss to South Carolina.

18. Auburn (6-2)

The race for the third-best team in the SEC is extraordinarily unexciting. Auburn is probably the winner as of this moment, but the poor Tigers have to play both Georgia and Alabama in November. So yeah.

19. LSU (6-2)

So maybe it’s LSU? The Bayou Bengals — a team that lost to Troy — could emerge as the SEC’s third-best team because they only have to play one of the top two teams (Bama) in the season’s final month.

20. USC (7-2)

USC back?!? The Trojans demolished Arizona State by a 48-17 score. They can still actually win this year’s whacky Pac-12, but they’ll have to go through menacing Arizona, of all teams, to do it.

21. Arizona (6-2)

Arizona’s quarterback, Khalil Tate, is quietly having one of the best seasons of any player in the country. He’s played in only six games yet ranks 13th in the land in rushing yards. This weekend in a rout of Wazzu? 275 passing yards and two passing touchdowns, 146 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.

22. Michigan State (6-2)

While you were watching the fantastic finish between Ohio State and Penn State, Sparty was busy getting upset in triple overtime by Northwestern. A great game in which Brian Lewerke was clutch as heck, but Sparty’s perfect conference mark is now kaput.

23. Memphis (7-1)

After South Florida lost its undefeated season this weekend, Memphis gets to be the new No. 2 in the Group of Five thanks to the Tigers having a much better resume than the Bulls: that awesome win over UCLA plus wins over other good Group of Five teams like Navy and Houston.

24. Mississippi State (6-2)

Six wins and just two losses to Georgia and Auburn? Give Mississippi State some credit. Dan Mullen’s done a good job down there, and so now he might be rewarded (if that's what you want to call it) with the Florida job.

25. Washington State (7-2)

Quite the tumble for the Cougs, who went from a perfect 6-0 to 7-2 thanks to a pair of huge road losses to Cal and Arizona. The first came by 34 points, the most recent by 21.

Others receiving votes:

South Florida (7-1)

There's no margin for error when you're trying to be a Group of Five team of the year. The Bulls lost to Houston and now can really only play spoiler in that season-ending battle against UCF.

Oregon (5-4)

The Ducks have lost three of their last four and four of their last six. But they just beat a previously believed to be good Utah team 41-20. So that’s something. God, the Pac-12 is weird.

West Virginia (5-3)

The balls in Morgantown were real slippery on Saturday. That’s really the only explanation for the ‘Neers’ turnover woes: five of ‘em including four Will Grier interceptions.

Toledo (7-1)

Toledo is 7-1. They play in the MAC. That is all.

Wake Forest (5-3)

The Deacs dropped 42 points on Louisville on Saturday, which might say something about the Deacs but more likely says something about Louisville.

Michigan (6-2)

Hello, Brandon Peters! Jim Harbaugh finally pulled the trigger on a quarterback change, and the results were instant. The fact they were playing Rutgers probably had nothing to do with it, right?

South Carolina (6-2)

I figured I had to give some mention to the Gamecocks being a two-loss SEC team. But so is Kentucky, so maybe I didn’t have to.