Is the best player in the draft an offensive guard? 'Nasty' Quenton Nelson might be it

Shutdown Corner

INDIANAPOLIS – If you wanted to create a quote for an offensive lineman to live by, it might be what Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson had to say about his playing style.

“As a blocker my mindset is being dominant,” Nelson said. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game.

“I would consider myself a nasty player.”

That’s not just talk from Nelson …

There’s a reason Nelson might be the safest pick in this draft. He might be the best player regardless of position.

For a long time guards were overlooked a bit. That’s changing. Nelson might not go before any of the four top quarterback prospects, because quarterbacks are always most valuable. Saquon Barkley could put up incredible stats from his first NFL game on, and it’ll be easy to quantify what defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick or defensive end Bradley Chubb bring to a defense. But there’s an argument to be made that the cleanest prospect is the 6-foot-5, 325-pound guard who wowed everyone with 35 reps of 225 pounds at the bench press on Thursday.

“Quenton is as fine a college football player as I’ve seen in a long time. As complete as I’ve seen,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said. “I’m not sure Quenton can’t play any of the five spots up front. We’ll see where he ultimately lines up as a rookie and second-year player. It’s a philosophical question, do guards matter? Every position matters on the field. He certainly has earned his way to the top of this draft for sure.”

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In recent years, guards have gotten some huge contracts in free agency. Teams are recalibrating their value, especially considering some of the best players in the game today are defensive tackles. Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald won NFL defensive player of the year. Others like Kawann Short of the Carolina Panthers and Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are supremely valuable because of their ability to rush the quarterback up the middle. That’s why Nelson thinks he should be in the conversation as one of the top five players in this year’s draft.

“I think I should be talked in that regard, the top-five conversation,,” Nelson said. “Because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys. You need guys to stop them. I think I’m one of those guys.”

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With any luck, the team that drafts Nelson will get a player like another “nasty” Notre Dame offensive lineman, Zack Martin of the Dallas Cowboys. Martin is a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. When he gets his contract extension from the Cowboys it will probably surpass Kevin Zeitler’s five-year, $60 million deal from the Browns that set an NFL record for a guard. Martin was the 16th overall pick of the 2014 draft, and Nelson should go well before the 16th pick this year.

Whoever drafts Nelson will get a Week 1 starter, someone who can perhaps neutralize some of the best defensive tackles he’ll face, and a player who can upgrade a team’s run blocking and pass protection. That sounds plenty valuable, even for a guard. And Nelson can help set a tone for a team’s entire offensive line.

“I would say the nastiness probably comes from being the youngest and getting picked on a lot, had a lot of frustration to take out on the football field. So, yeah, I want to play nasty,” Nelson said. “I play clean, though.”

Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson is considered one of the best players in this year’s draft. (AP)
Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson is considered one of the best players in this year’s draft. (AP)

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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