Second-year GM Chris Ballard and the Indianapolis Colts knew they needed to land a true force along the offensive line in the 2018 NFL Draft to protect their franchise quarterback. They definitely did that by selecting Quenton Nelson at No. 6 overall.
Nelson has been given some astronomical expectations coming out of Notre Dame, and the Colts coaching staff have had the joy of seeing him in person this offseason in OTAs and in the different minicamps that he’s attended. Nelson was recognized as a bully along the line, a nasty, smart and dominant interior lineman whose traits and ability translated so much to the NFL game that he was discussed as possibly the top talent overall in the draft.
‘Guards don’t hold that type of positional value to be the top pick’ they said. Well, for the Colts and their longstanding issues up front, this guard was the clear choice for Ballard. There have been multiple reports written on Nelson over the past several months, and Stephen White wrote a fun one as well, giving the perspective of Nelson’s skills from a former NFL defensive lineman.
White called Nelson “the draft’s most exciting blocker.” which fits to most of the pre-draft hype that surrounded him. However, according to Frank Reich, the hype is real.
“You can see the instincts. You can see (when) we’re pulling and when we run some of our gap-scheme runs where he’s doing pulling. One of the things on tape everybody said, ‘This guy is the best pulling guard, ever.’ You can see that, man. It just shows up all over the tape.”
Very seldom does a rookie come in and transition so smoothly that they are already set to challenge the jump in competition. While Reich admits that Nelson is still learning, it sounds as though he is far ahead of recent OL additions the Colts have gotten in the draft.
Being humble and accepting that there’s always more to learn, especially with such a highly-touted prospect, isn’t always the case in the league. Nelson, though, has been getting some help throughout his first offseason with the team, and Reich seems to suggest that it’s paying off.
“I think it’s been good for him. I think he’s had a couple vets like (Matt) Slauson really to kind of take him under his wing a little bit. Even though he’s a great prospect and we’re really excited about him, he doesn’t have all the answers yet and there is a process of learning. I think he’s probably had one or two aha moments.”
It’s not just having all of the mechanics, or brains to segue into the league from collegiate ball, but the ability to handle the massive uptick in talent plays into that as much as anything. Player’s ability to convert the physical, mental and emotional jump into one vision is key. Needless to say, Reich likes what he’s seen thus far from the team’s top draft pick.
“I remember seeing him on a double team, I forget who he was working with, but I don’t know if it was Grover (Stewart) or Al Woods. They’re trying to move him and he wasn’t moving. I said to myself, ‘I bet he’s not used to feeling that.’ He used to, when he gets down on a double team, of moving somebody and now there’s guys in this league that it’s just another step up competition wise. I love those moments. That’s what keeps you humble, that’s what keeps you hungry and I think that’s important in his process as well.”
With so many questions facing this Colts team heading into the 2018 season, to have the feeling that — if nothing else — the line could be truly heading in the right direction, and possibly be a strength in the upcoming season, the fan base may be more apt to accept some time for growth elsewhere on the roster. The WR corps is young and untested, the backfield is exciting but is still an unknown and the defense holds so many more questions than answers.
But, if the line can keep Andrew Luck upright and create solid running lanes for the backs this season, smiles will return to the faces of the horseshoe’s faithful.