The first offensive lineman off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft was guard Quenton Nelson, who went sixth overall to the Indianapolis Colts.
That was the first part of a Notre Dame offensive lineman two-step in the top-10, as tackle Mike McGlinchey was snapped up by the San Francisco 49ers at No. 9. It was the first time since 1993 that two Fighting Irish players went in the top 10. That year, quarterback Rick Mirer went No. 2 overall to the Seattle Seahawks while running back Jerome Bettis went 10th to the Los Angeles Rams.
While McGlinchey is going to a team with some expectations — largely due to a huge upgrade at quarterback — Nelson is going to be expected to be a key piece of a potentially massive retooling in Indianapolis.
It’s hard to call it a rebuild since the team will go as far as the right shoulder of Andrew Luck will allow. In the interim, Colts general manager Chris Ballard must find ways to protect Luck and surround him with more talent.
Nelson will do both.
He’ll help with the rushing side of things for sure, as the Colts ranked 22nd in the league in yards (1,661), and 28th in yards per carry (3.7). The Colts also addressed that with their fourth-round pick, grabbing running back Nyheim Hines out of North Carolina State.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network called Nelson the best run blocker he has ever evaluated.
Nelson will start at left guard, which will help the Colts running the ball not only to that direction, but up the middle. He’ll be replacing Jeremy Vujnovich, a 16-game starter at the position last year. The Colts rushed for 708 yards up the middle last year (10th in NFL), but strip that down to yards per carry and it ranks 25th with 18 plays that were stuffed — fourth-most in the league.
To the left hash, the Colts totaled just 344 yards last year, which ranked 24th in the NFL. That came out to just 3.7 yards per carry, which ranked 25. As one might expect, all runs to the left of center were not particularly good, either. The Colts totaled 426 yards on runs to the left for just 3.8 yards per carry (both 27th in NFL).
Here are some plays where Nelson should be especially helpful:
In this Week 1 play, Scott Tolzien operates out of shotgun with T.Y. Hilton coming in motion across the formation. Tolzien takes the snap, and is pretty much swarmed from all sides. The initial pressure comes from the left side — Tolzien’s blind side — and he tries to thread the needle to Hilton, who is well covered. Not only is the ball intercepted, but the play was returned for a touchdown.
Here quarterback Jacoby Brissett works out of shotgun, and sees pressure from both sides. Well, he sees it from the right side — he’s a right-handed thrower — but ultimately he’s swarmed in the backfield, resulting in a strip sack that goes for a touchdown. It’s easy to see how Vujnovich was bullied into the backfield here.
In Week 9, Brissett again lines up in shotgun, and sees pressure quickly as the left side of the line is overwhelmed. In this case, the Texans run a stunt, with a player cycling from the outside to fill a gap that was previously occupied. These can be difficult to block assignment-wise, and Brissett sees no one open as he again has a fumble that is returned for a touchdown.
Now these plays can also be chalked up to young or ineffective quarterback play, but foundationally these things start with poor protection. Nelson should be able to help clean that up quickly in Indy in 2018.
By: Brandon Warne
Follow Brandon on Twitter @Brandon_Warne