Round 1: Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson
6-4, 330 – 5.23– Junior
The first question Buccaneers fans might have is, “Can Nelson rush the passer?”
No. In PewterReport.com’s initial 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, the Bucs don’t draft a defensive end in the first round. Keep in mind that we have four more mock drafts to go before the 2018 NFL Draft arrives and a lot can – and will – change between now and then.
Because this is not a great draft for 4-3 defensive ends that can rush the passer, North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb likely won’t get past Indianapolis at No. 3 and make it to Tampa Bay at No. 7. With 2018 being a make-or-break year for both head coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht, I also don’t see the team using a lot of draft capital to move up to get Chubb because this Bucs team is not a player away from making the playoffs. It could very well take three or four players from this draft class being starters in 2018 to achieve that.
I almost put University of Texas San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport in at No. 7 for Tampa Bay. There is a lot to like about the 6-foot-7, 255-pound defensive end, including his 21.5 career sacks, 37.5 career tackles for loss, eight career passes defensed and six career forced fumbles, but the level of competition he faced in producing those great statistics is a concern.
Davenport will be at the Senior Bowl later this month, and if he showcases his talent in Mobile, Ala. and makes a splash like former defensive linemen, including Ziggy Ansah, Aaron Donald and Tampa Bay’s own Noah Spence, have in the past, his draft stock could rise into the top 10. He’s not there yet, but don’t be surprised if Davenport is the Bucs’ first-round pick in our next PewterReport.com 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft if that’s indeed the case. I wrote about Davenport being on the rise back in October in a previous SR’s Fab 5 column.
Instead, the Bucs reap the benefits of teams in front of Tampa Bay taking several quarterbacks and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, letting the best lineman and perhaps the best overall prospect in Nelson slide to them at No. 7. Believe it or not, but guard is a huge need for Tampa Bay with right guard J.R. Sweezy underperforming in his return to football after missing 2016 due to back surgery, and Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith underwhelming at left guard. The scary thing is that both Pamphile and Smith were in contract years.
Drafting the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Nelson, whom I featured in my most recent SR’s Fab 5 column, immediately helps the Bucs’ ground game as he paved the way for Josh Adams to run for 3,201 yards and 20 touchdowns at Notre Dame, including 1,430 yards and nine touchdowns on 206 carries (6.9 avg.). Putting Nelson in at left guard and moving Ali Marpet back to right guard could solidify the interior running game, as long as the team finds a good center in free agency like Baltimore’s Ryan Jensen.
“He’s a plug-and-play NFL starter and should have a long, successful pro career,” NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Nelson.
The goal of any general manager drafting in the top 10 is drafting a Pro Bowl-caliber player. In my research about guards for the latest SR’s Fab 5 column, eight of the last 15 guards that were first-rounders in 10 drafts over a 13-year span dating back to 2005 became Pro Bowlers. That’s an incredibly high hit rate.
Nelson, who declared for the 2018 NFL Draft after his junior season, has been a three-year starter for the Fighting Irish, which was a goal of his coming out of high school, according to an article on NDInsider.com.
“I told him, ‘There’s eight upperclassmen you have to beat out. You may be sitting an awfully long time at Notre Dame,’” Craig Nelson told his son before he committed to the Fighting Irish. “He said, ‘Dad, if I can’t start there, then my dream for the NFL is moot.’”
Quenton Nelson pinned a promise to the back of his bedroom door that said, “I’m going to start as a redshirt freshman at Notre Dame.”
“He did it,” Craig Nelson said, “and that was that.”
Part of the reason he was able to start as a redshirt freshman was because of his size and strength. Nelson bench-pressed 26 repetitions of 225 pounds in high school, while at the NFL Scouting Combine that year, future first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney could only muster 21 reps.
Nelson gets his quick feet, hip flexion, leverage and mental discipline from years studying Taekwondo. For a guard, he has a devastating highlight reel. Imagine the opponents Nelson can devastate at the next level as a Buccaneer.