INDIANAPOLIS — Some folks may have a hard time wrapping their mind around Quenton Nelson being considered one of the top picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.
It’s not that he isn’t talented. It’s not that he isn’t dominant. It’s not that he isn’t one of the surest bets of any player available.
It’s that he’s a guard.
The NFL has not selected a guard in the top half of the first round since 2013, when Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack were taken seventh and 10th, respectively. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 2001, when Leonard Davis was the No. 2 overall selection.
But Nelson, Notre Dame’s latest and perhaps most promising in a string of strong interior offensive linemen, makes a case for being valued so highly when you watch his tape. Teams can see him mauling opponents and adjusting to pick up stray pass rushers and paving the way for running backs.
“It’s like running behind a tow truck,” Notre Dame running back Josh Adams said.
The 6-5, 329-pound Nelson also made his case verbally Thursday when he spoke at the NFL Combine a few minutes after pounding out an impressive 35 reps on the bench press.
“I think I should be talked in that regard, the top five conversation, because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, that have just been working on interior guys,” he said of the prominence of defensive tackles in the league.
“You need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys. You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw. A lot of quarterbacks, if given the opportunity, can do that. That’s what I give, is a pocket to step up in.”
At least one other person sees things that way. He happens to be the general manager of the Giants, who hold the No. 2 overall selection in the draft.
“There isn’t a quarterback alive who’s gonna get in the huddle and say, ‘OK, boys, let ’em up the middle and I’ll deal with it,’ ” Dave Gettleman said Wednesday. “You need to be firm in the middle.”
Nelson certainly would give the Giants — or any team that selects him — firmness.
“I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness, and establishing the run also opens up the passing game,” Nelson said, “so I think it’s a good choice.”
He might be especially excited if the Giants take him, and not just because of going second overall. Nelson grew up in Holmdel in central New Jersey (“I definitely consider myself a Jersey guy,” he said) and rooted for Big Blue.
“I grew up a Giants fan watching Geoff Schwartz, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, all those guys,” he said. “They had a great interior line and won a couple Super Bowls, so that was awesome being a Giants fan.”
He met with the Giants on Wednesday and came away just as impressed. He said he liked the direction of their new coaching staff and the changes they are looking to implement. Both Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur have said publicly that their first order of business is to improve the offensive line. Nelson certainly would do that in a hurry.
“It definitely would be nice,” he said of playing for the Giants or the Jets, who have the No. 6 overall pick, “but I can’t control that. Whatever team I go to, it’s not going to matter the distance or how far I am from home. I’m ready.”