As the Scouting Combine approaches and NFL teams prepare to see a bunch of players on a football field doing something other than playing football in Indianapolis, the overall quality of the incoming class of prospect will come into sharper focus. Mike Mayock of NFL Network, who has emerged over the last 15 years into perhaps the best draft analyst of them all, already has a high opinion of a player from a position that often doesn’t go very high in the draft.
Mayock, as explained to Peter King of SI.com, believes that the best players on film so far this year are Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Notre Dame guard — yes, guard — Quenton Nelson.
“I think when you look around the NFL today and see that there are more and more high level interior pass rushers than there were five years ago, you know have to be strong across the offensive front,” Mayock told King. “Every top-level quarterback I’ve ever talked to told me that what they hate the most is immediate pressure up the middle. If they can step up into a pocket, they’re all happy. And that’s what [Nelson] is. He is a son of a bitch who is going to knock people down in the run game. I call him a people mover. He opens holes. For 330 pounds, his feet are pretty good. I think he can plug-and-play there for the next 10 or 12 years.”
Guards rarely have exited the board in the first 10 picks in recent years, and Mayock understands that.
“I would look at who this kid is, not just on tape, but who the kid is,” Mayock said. “He loves football, lives football, and because of his work ethic, toughness, and natural ability, unless he has an injury, I think this kid is going to be special.”
All it takes is one team in the top 10 to agree with Mayock, and Nelson will become only the fourth interior offensive lineman to land in the top 10 since New Year’s Eve in 1999.