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Prospect Fight Night: Quenton Nelson vs. Zack Martin. Round 4

Comparing the highest paid guard in the NFL to the top offensive line prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft. Focusing on run blocking.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In the past few weeks, Zack Martin became the NFL’s highest paid interior offensive linemen earning a 6 year $84 million deal. We could all sit around and debate the worth of a guard in the modern NFL, but with any luck at all Colts fans will have plenty of time to debate that question in four or five years when Quenton Nelson is set to become the highest paid guard in NFL history — after coming off of 4 consecutive Super Bowl victories.

A guy can dream right?

Facebook reader John Fraser wanted to know how Zack Martin and Quenton Nelson compared as college prospects. Both went to Notre Dame, both were 1st round picks, both play guard in the NFL, both were coached by Harry Hiestand while in college, but what else is there? Are they similar as prospects? What traits do they share? What separates the two of them?

Ultimately, who was the superior prospect?

That’s the question I want to answer but it’s important to distinguish what I mean when I say “superior prospect”. What that means is who, coming out of college, projected to the pro game better. Ranking prospects is difficult, Trent Richardson was a much better pro prospect than David Johnson and we all know how accurate those projections were. Time will sort out the better pro player, right now all we have are projections and prospects.

There are issues with comparing the two purely as prospects, we already know Martin is a 2 time all-pro and I’m not able to completely separate the 2018 Zack Martin from 2013 Zack Martin in my mind, but I will do my best.

We’re going to square these two men off in an old fashion prospect battle, this bout is scheduled for 4 rounds, there will be no knock downs, no count outs and no tapping out. We’re going to go the full 4 rounds and at the end we’re going to declare a winner. Grab a snack, get a drink and enjoy the fireworks.

I’ve got $20 that says the first comment is some guy who didn’t read the article and then discredits the title. Anyone want to take me up on it? No? Okay, let’s get to it.

Round 4: Run Blocking

So far we’ve seen three clean rounds, Nelson has taken two while Martin showed as the better pass blocking prospect. Round 4 will see these two men square up as run blockers. Round 4 could very well be the tipping point for Nelson or Martin. Let’s get to it.

Zack Martin

Zack Martin Run 1:

I included this play, not because it was a huge success but because of what Martin does during the down. Martin starts by combo blocking the DE with his tight end, he sees a linebacker flow his way and does a good job of releasing to go block the flowing defender. Had there not been penetration on the backside Martin’s block would have created positive yardage on the play.

It shows his awareness and some of his athleticism moving in space. This is a good showing from Zack Martin, even though the run went for a loss.

Zack Martin Run #2:

This clip is what I saw a lot from Martin; he sticks his nose in, works hard and he usually creates yards for his running back. He does those things without being dominate. He doesn’t consistently impose his will on good defenders, that’s not where he’s best.

Martin is best in the run game when he’s using angles and movement to gain an advantage. Sure he can lineup and run man blocking schemes but you’re not going to make the most of his ability. Martin needs a zone heavy scheme to maximize his potential.

Quenton Nelson

Quenton Nelson Run Block #1:

This play shows a lot of who Quenton Nelson is. He starts the play on a combo block with Mike McGlinchey, they get good movement on the DT, then Nelson works to a linebacker. That’s not something you usually see on the 3 yard line. After all if the RB were tied to Nelson’s hip he’s probably in the endzone without blocking the LB. Instead Nelson did is job on the first level and sought out another block to finish.

Nelson Run Block #2:

This is Quenton Nelson’s game. Don’t get me wrong, I saw him lose some downs and there were plays he ended up on the turf. There were even some plays that a defender would catch him off balance and drive him back but when you lined up and ran the ball behind him, 99.9% of the time Quenton Nelson was clearing a path and if you were in his way you were going for a ride.

That’s what we see here. He starts working in tandem and then continues to drive the DT down the field. If you play defensive tackle and you get pushed back 6 yards, you did bad and you should feel bad. Sure he was technically in on the tackle, but he was in on this tackle like the time playing high school football I “tackled” former Colts and Giants Safety Stevie Brown. I was on the ground in front of him and he tripped over me. Hardly something to brag about (but it’s all I’ve got).

Bonus Quenton Nelson Clip:

By now you’ve heard the Frank Reich clip where he says that Nelson is the greatest pulling prospect in history. Now, I can’t say for sure that’s completely accurate, I didn’t watch college tape on Larry Allen, John Hannah, Gene Upshaw, Bruce Matthews or Steve Hutchinson but of the guys I have watched Nelson pulls better than any of them.

The play above is kind of amazing, most guys pulling in that situation are hitting the first guy that flashes, in fact I wouldn’t have blamed him for it. Dude was right there, it’s an easy block. Instead Nelson realizes that the first defender has run past the play, he sees another guy off the edge flash and blocks him instead. Nelson had a fraction of a fraction of a second to see this, recognize it, make a decision and execute it cleanly. Not only does he create yards for the QB on the option run, he absolutely murders the blitzing defender. This is special, there aren’t many guys that can do this.

Advantage: Quenton Nelson

This is where Quenton Nelson pulls ahead in a big way. It’s not just that he won this round, it’s that he can do everything Martin can do and so much more. Martin and Nelson have both looked good though the first 4 rounds, but this is the first round where either guy has been heads and shoulders above the other and it just so happens that Nelson looks special as a run blocker.

Round 4 Score:

Quenton Nelson: 10

Zack Martin: 8