FAB 3. Nelson Could Immediately Help Bucs
Let’s face it. There may not be a more unsexy first-round pick in the NFL than a guard.
Running backs, wide receivers and pass-catching tight ends are sexy picks. First-round quarterbacks bring the splash. First-round pass rushing defensive ends and intercepting defensive backs bring the flash. Left tackles and defensive tackles are accepted first-rounders by fans because they are often necessary.
But if you want to hear moans and groans from an NFL fan base draft a guard.
Unless it’s this year, and it’s Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson.
It’s rare that a guard is considered to be the best offensive lineman in the NFL Draft. That distinction typically falls on left tackles and some times right tackles, but rarely guards.
This year it’s different thanks to the massive, 6-foot-5, 335-pound Fighting Irish lineman from Holmdel, New Jersey. Nelson, who recently declared for the 2018 NFL Draft, has been a three-year starter at left guard for Notre Dame since his redshirt freshman season.
“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 Bucs have a glaring need at guard in 2018, as Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith, who rotated at left guard, are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after both had a disappointing season. Neither could be back this year.
Right guard J.R. Sweezy reworked his contract after missing the entire 2016 campaign due to back surgery. His return to football didn’t go as planned as he was inconsistent and didn’t bring the anticipated push in the running game that Tampa Bay was expecting. Sweezy is expected to make $5.25 million in base salary in 2018 and if the Bucs want to move on from him this year he will only account for $1.875 million worth of dead cap money.
The Bucs might be better off moving Ali Marpet back to right guard, drafting Nelson to play left guard if they can, and finding a center in free agency like Baltimore’s Ryan Jensen or the New York Giants’ Weston Richburg. That could put more power in Tampa Bay’s ground game.
Nelson has teamed with left tackle Mike McGlinchey, a fellow first-round prospect, to help Notre Dame running back Josh Adams record 3,201 yards and 20 touchdowns on 480 carries (6.7 avg.), including 1,430 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017 on 206 carries (6.9 avg.). Nelson is known for his penchant for pancaking defensive linemen to the ground and finishing his opponents all the way through the whistle.
“Q is a brawler,” linebacker Joe Schmidt said. “He’s somebody that loves to get in there. He’s a tough, hard-nosed, nasty football player, and that’s what you want on the offensive line.”
Nelson, a consensus All-American, has a quiet, workmanlike, blue-collar demeanor that will remind Bucs general manager Jason Licht of former New England and Tampa Bay Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins.
“I think it’s better to have too much aggression than too little,” Nelson said.
It can be hard to sit through offensive linemen highlight reels because blocking isn’t as flamboyant as breakaway runs, diving catches or quarterback sacks, but I can honestly say that I’ve never said “Wow!” more while watching a highlight tape than when I played the one below of Nelson (56).
The words “amazingly impressive” come to mind.
It’s not just Nelson’s size or power that has NFL scouts drooling. It’s also his quick feet, strong hands, leverage, hip explosion and technique that are jaw dropping.
“He can bench press a truck,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he’s got toughness but he moves his feet really well.
“That’s really probably the one thing that I don’t say surprises you, but when you see a kid that big, it’s hard to envision a kid running out the way he runs. He runs exceedingly well for his size.”
Remember that the goal of any team drafting in the first round, but especially in the top 10, is to draft a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Find an elite starter – one that has Pro Bowl potential.
The Bucs have done that twice with Licht running the draft, selecting wide receiver Mike Evans in 2014 and quarterback Jameis Winston in 2015. O.J. Howard, this past year’s first-rounder, has the tools to develop into a Pro Bowl tight end, while cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who was the 11th overall pick in 2016, is struggling to cut it as an NFL starter.
Ask any NFL scout and they’ll tell you that Nelson is the closest thing to a sure-fire hit as there is in this year’s draft.
Believe it or not, drafting a guard in the first round may be the easiest way to find a Pro Bowler. There have been 15 guards drafted in the first round in 10 drafts over the last 13 years – an average of about one per year. The jury is still out on the two most recent guards selected in 2016 – San Francisco’s Joshua Garnett and Seattle’s Germain Ifedi – and there have been some busts, such as Jonathan Cooper and Danny Watkins.
But Washington’s Brandon Scherff and Dallas’ Zack Martin, who was a left tackle at Notre Dame when Nelson arrived on campus, had initial success during their rookie seasons and quickly became Pro Bowlers. In fact, Martin became the first rookie linemen to make first-team All-Pro in 57 years in 2014.
First-Round Guards Drafted In 2005-2016
2016 NFL Draft
No. 28 Joshua Garnett – 49ers
11 starts / 15 games
No. 31 Germain Ifedi – Seahawks
28 starts / 28 games
2015 NFL Draft
*No. 5 Brandon Scherff – Redskins
PFWA All-Rookie Team
2x Pro Bowl
46 starts / 46 games
No. 28 Laken Tomlinson – Lions/49ers
24 starts / 32 games
2014 NFL Draft
*No. 16 Zack Martin – Cowboys
PFWA All-Rookie team
4x Pro Bowl / 2x All Pro
58 starts/58 games
2013 NFL Draft
No. 7 Jonathan Cooper – Cardinals/Patriots/Cowboys
24 starts / 39 games
No. 10 Chance Warmack – Titans/Eagles
50 starts / 58 games
No. 20 Kyle Long – Bears
*PWFA All-Rookie Team
3x Pro Bowl
55 starts/ 55 games
2012 NFL Draft
*No. 24 David DeCastro – Steelers
3x Pro Bowl / 1x All Pro
80 starts / 81 games
No. 27 Kevin Zeitler – Bengals/Browns
PFWA 2012 All-rookie team
87 starts / 88 games
2011 NFL Draft
No. 23 Danny Watkins – Eagles
18 starts / 26 games
2010 NFL Draft
*No. 17 Mike Iupati – 49ers/Cardinals
4x Pro Bowler / 1x All Pro
103 starts / 103 games
2007 NFL Draft
*No. 29 Ben Grubbs – Ravens/Saints/Chiefs
2x Pro Bowl
125 starts / 129 games
2006 NFL Draft
*No. 23 Davin Joseph – Bucs/Rams
2x Pro Bowl
112 starts / 116 games
2005 NFL Draft
*No. 32 Logan Mankins – Patriots/Bucs
7x Pro Bowler / 1x All Pro
161 starts / 161 games
*indicates first-round guards that made the Pro Bowl
Nelson wouldn’t be the sexiest first-round pick for Bucs fans to celebrate in April, but it sure would bring smiles to the faces of Winston and the running back Tampa Bay selects in the second or third round. And if Nelson were to become a Pro Bowler as I and many draft pundits believe he’ll be, Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter will be smiling, too.