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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 56 Quenton Nelson, left guard

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5, 329 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Nelson starts at left guard and will start on the Irish line until the day he heads to the NFL Draft.
Recruiting: A rivals.com five-star recruit, Nelson chose Notre Dame over offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Stanford and many others. The No. 2 prospect in New Jersey, No. 3 tackle and No. 29 player overall in the class of 2014, Nelson committed to Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand in May of his junior year of high school, robbing recruitniks of any drama in the high-profile lineman’s process.

CAREER TO DATE
Nelson preserved a year of eligibility in 2014 before starting 23 of the 25 games in the following two seasons, only missing two starts in 2015 due to an ankle injury, though he still appeared in one of those two games.

QUOTE(S)
Spring conversations tend to rotate around question marks, and Nelson at left guard is anything but a question. As a captain, Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated Nelson is a point of reliance for the team as a whole.

“Guys with a lot of experience you’re going to continue to count on,” Kelly said the week of the Blue-Gold Game. “… You look at the captains first, because you know you’re going to count on them off the field, and that means you can probably count on them on the field, as well. Take those guys. Quenton Nelson, [fifth-year senior left tackle] Mike McGlinchey … guys you can count on right out of the gate.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
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 seasons 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.”

2017 OUTLOOK
While Notre Dame does have some questions about the right side of its offensive line, and about the overall offensive line depth, not having to worry about half of those protection possibilities is quite a luxury. Nelson, combined with McGlinchey, provides that luxury.

Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long preaches a scheme more focused on field/boundary designs than on left/right patterns, so there may not be the development of an over-reliance on the left-side combination a la Keith’s example of Watt and Martin. Nonetheless, in short-yardage or goal-line situations, expect Nelson to be the lead blocker as often as not. He is strong in pass protection, as well, but run blocking is his specialty.

DOWN THE ROAD
Nelson’s returning despite a second-round NFL Draft grade makes sense. He can get his degree and most likely improve his draft positioning drastically. Some rated Nelson the top guard in the 2017 draft, but that simply meant he would hear his name called early the second day, as Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp did, going No. 38 overall as the first guard off the board and the fourth offensive lineman.

It is simply less likely for a guard to go high in the draft than it is a tackle unless the guard has truly established himself as a step above the rest. That will be Nelson’s task this year, one he is presumably up to given his career trends thus far. At that point, look for McGlinchey to be the first tackle drafted, and Nelson to be grabbed shortly thereafter as the first guard.

It is possible Nelson returns in 2018, and Hiestand would jump at that chance, but — barring injury — it will most likely be in Nelson’s best interests to head to the NFL after his third season as a Notre Dame starter. One wrinkle to a possible return would be if Hiestand offered Nelson the chance to succeed McGlinchey at left tackle. While Nelson has thoroughly established himself as a guard, displaying potential at tackle could pique the NFL’s interests.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship