It didn’t take long for Quenton Nelson to establish himself as one of the nation’s premier guards. From day one in the starting lineup, Nelson helped the Irish become one of the country’s dominant offensive lines, a bruising run blocker who showed incredible toughness as he battled through an ankle injury and returned quickly to the lineup after Alex Bars went down.
This spring, Nelson got enough more monstrous. Brian Kelly quipped that Nelson had grown to 346 pounds, though Harry Hiestand tried his best to downplay that size, pegging the number closer to 330.
But you’ll see a slimmer, quicker Nelson this season, his spring and summer spent putting in the work. That should lead to an even better season as the junior is joined by Mike McGlinchey on the left side of Sam Mustipher, perhaps the best guard-tackle combo in America.
6’5″, 325 lbs.
Junior, No. 56, LG
An elite, national recruit, Nelson was a five-star prospect and Top 30 player. Earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American game. Chose Notre Dame early in the process, picking the Irish over Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford and just about everybody else.
Made waves on the web as he pulled off 26 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press as a high school senior, more than most offensive line prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.
Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 12 games, starting 11 after suffering an ankle injury against Clemson. Finished as Notre Dame’s third-ranked offensive lineman per PFF College’s grading system, behind only Mike McGlinchey and Nick Martin with a +17.7 ranking.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
He might have outperformed my expectations.
For as good as Nelson can be, he’s still just a redshirt freshman. To that point, I expect a good season, within reason. That means that he’ll likely struggle against elite defenders, with veteran players capable of using Nelson’s aggression against him, and potentially getting the young guard and his body out of position.
Of course, there’s also a good chance that Nelson is as good as advertised. Because he did spend the spring beating out a talented depth chart, and his natural strength and power are absolutely keys to being a great guard in Hiestand’s blocking scheme.
Some guys are born to be offensive linemen. Nelson looks like one of those guys. The chance to be a four-year starter is a rare one. But Nelson seems to be on that trajectory.
No pressure, kid.
From five-star prospect to first-round draft pick. That’s the trajectory Nelson is on, even if he will be doing it as a guard not as a tackle, as most expected when he was recruited.
For as good as Nelson is expected to be, he’s still just a second-year player. And he’ll be lining up next to another future first-rounder who has just one season under his belt and is already expected to be among the best in the country.
Nelson is big, nasty, and in exceptional shape entering the season. He’s another sky-is-the-limit prospect, an elite talent who matches that with exceptional mental makeup.
Notre Dame could have two All-Americans lined up next to each other. That’s my bold prediction heading into the season, with both Nelson and McGlinchey earning those honors. In season’s past, we saw the Irish become left-handed in the running game, with Chris Watt and Zack Martin the trusted preference of Brian Kelly in critical running situations. It’s hard to think that won’t be the case in 2016.
Nelson’s strength has turned him into an elite run blocker. Expect to see his game round out this season, with his improved fitness helping bring the physical traits of a tackle into play as well. A special season is possible.
2016’s Irish A-to-Z
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Tony Jones Jr.