Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft profile: Guard, Quenton Nelson
The third stop on our 2018 prospect tour is Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, the top offensive lineman in this draft and a serious target for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With free agency mostly in the rear-view mirror, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to have four significant leaks in the ship to plug. These are strong safety, running back, cornerback, and offensive guard. If we trimmed that list down further, I think most people would come to the conclusion that guard is the most dire problem of them all.
Enter Quenton Nelson. Notre Dame’s monstrous offensive lineman is the top player at his position in this draft, and one of the more unanimously praised prospects in recent memory. Nelson is squeaky clean on and off the field, and is oozing with All-Pro potential at the NFL level.
Though it’s anyone’s guess what Jason Licht’s big board looks like, I’d be willing to bet money that Nelson is among the top two players, and further, the team would race to the podium if he were available at pick seven. Let’s take a closer look at Nelson and why the Buccaneers will be head-over-heels in love with him.
Nelson’s College Career
Quenton Nelson played three seasons for the Irish after redshirtting as a freshman, and in all of them he was a force to be reckoned with. In his debut as a sophomore, Nelson started eleven of twelve games and was a key part of a resurgent Irish rushing attack. Notre Dame averaged 207.6 rushing yards per game that season, their most as a school since the year 2000. Nelson and the rest of the Irish offensive line were finalists for the Joe Moore award, which is annually awarded to the best offensive line unit in the country.
Like a sequel to a great movie, Nelson’s junior season saw him build upon the strong foundation already in place. He started all twelve games for the Irish including the Fiesta Bowl, and finished the season on the Associated Press’s third team All-American list.
It was Nelson’s senior season where he truly burst on to the scene. Nelson became the rare offensive lineman to have highlights go viral after he rag-dolled an LSU defender with apparent ease. Having already established himself as the best offensive lineman in this year’s draft, Nelson went on to dominate the combine. Nelson weighed in at 329 lbs and 6’5, racked up 35 bench press reps, and showed impressive quickness in all of the drills for a man of his size and strength.
Quenton Nelson’s two calling cards are his nastiness and brute strength. He’s a punishing run blocker and considered ready to start from day one. Nelson is incredibly strong and simply bulldozes defensive linemen, and at times, slams them into the dirt like it’s WWE. Though he spent his collegiate career at left guard, his combine measurements seem to indicate he has plenty of nimbleness to play offensive tackle if a team wanted. Nelson’s dominance in the run game could have a transformative affect for any offense much like Zach Martin did for the Cowboys.
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For the Buccaneers in particular, Nelson would lock up the entire offensive line for the foreseeable future, and would help improve one of the league’s worst running games, regardless of who the running back actually is.
Not very much. I’m by no means an offensive line expert, but in draft circles it seems to be near unanimous that Nelson is as clean a prospect as they come. Nelson’s biggest weakness appears to be his speed, but compared to most other offensive linemen he’s more than adept, and as mentioned earlier he has the movement skills to play offensive tackle if a team desired.
Nelson’s position of guard isn’t considered one of the higher valued positions in the league and similar to running back it seems to be found regularly in the later rounds. That is a con that the Buccaneers will probably consider, but it’s too minor to really make a difference. Of all the prospects covered in the Pewter Plank player tour I expect Nelson to have the fewest cons of all.
Why the Buccaneers need Quenton Nelson
The Buccaneers had arguably the worst play from offensive guards in all of football last year and set out this off-season to fix it. The signing of center Ryan Jensen allowed Ali Marpet to move to left guard which solved half of the issue, but the Buccaneers must look to the draft to solve the other half. Quenton Nelson would start for the Bucs at left guard and allow Marpet to play right guard, where he started the first two years of his career.
Nelson would immediately elevate the Buccaneer offensive line to near elite status, and most importantly would resuscitate the teams’ barely-breathing run game. There are of course other guards to be had in this year’s draft, but none come even close to what Nelson brings to the table. Adding Nelson to a core of Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen and Donovan Smith would be something every Buccaneer fan could get excited about.
Will it happen?
A combination of Nelson’s incredible talent and a relatively weak class of offensive linemen means that the Notre Dame product will very likely be selected somewhere in the top six picks – a remarkable feat for an offensive guard who typically go much later in the first round. I would put the odds at it happening at slim right now, because several teams ahead of the Bucs need offensive line help, like the Colts, Broncos, Jets and Browns.
If Nelson is available at pick seven I expect the Buccaneers to sprint to the podium, much like they did last year when O.J. Howard surprisingly slipped to them. Nelson is simply too elite and too safe of a pick to pass up, and fills one of the biggest holes on the entire roster.
Next: Player Profile: Derwin James
That’s it for our look at Quenton Nelson, this year’s top offensive line prospect. Tomorrow we’ll be breaking down Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okonronkwo, so be sure to check back for that.