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Film Room: Quenton Nelson establishing himself as the league’s best interior lineman

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Quenton Nelson is playing at an insanely high level in 2019

Atlanta Falcons v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

The Colts have been fairly up and down in 2019 following a sluggish loss to the Oakland Raiders and a major upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs. While the team overall has been a bit inconsistent, there is one player on the roster who has consistently been putting together dominant performances week after week. That player is the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Quenton Nelson.

Coming off a rookie season where he was named to the Pro Bowl and named as a First Team All-Pro, Nelson appears to be playing at an even higher level in 2019. His pass blocking has taken a great step forward in terms of manipulating and controlling defenders while his run blocking has stayed at an already elite level. In today’s film room, we will be taking look at this elite offensive lineman and why he is among the best overall players in the NFL.


Pass Blocking

Nelson is a tank on the inside while pass blocking and he always keeps his head on a swivel in protection. Rarely will a player get a free rush against the Colts on the left side as Nelson picks up stunts and twists with ease. On this play, he initially chips the nose tackle so center Ryan Kelly can control his block. While doing this, he keeps his head on a swivel and sees Melvin Ingram beat Anthony Castonzo to the outside. Nelson is able to quickly readjust and cut off the talented pass rusher before he can get to the quarterback.

Nelson effortlessly controls stunts and twists like they are nothing. He starts the play by directing the defensive lineman in front of him to the block of Kelly. After doing so, he keeps his head up and sees Ingram yet again twisting around to his side. Ingram, one of the leagues quickest and most talented pass rushers, looks completely over matched by the power of Nelson. He is able to quickly control Ingram and take him out of the play with complete ease.

While it is great for an offensive lineman to recognize stunts and pick them up, he has to also excel in one on one situations to be truly great. Here is one example of how he just locks it down on his side each and every rep. He keeps a wide base while keeping his strong hands inside on defenders across from him. He even fires off the ball and initiates contact despite being in pass protection. To quote the great Howard Mudd, “Pass pro isn’t passive” and Nelson shows why it doesn’t have to be. Once he gets inside position on a player like this and sets his feet, the rep is effectively over.

Against an elite talent like Grady Jarrett, an offensive lineman can’t win in their typical ways every rep. If a guard becomes too predictable against a player like Jarrett, he will eventually make them pay. Here, Nelson doesn’t jump on Jarrett like he typically does. Instead, he fakes a jab at the snap which stands Jarrett up and delays his rush. This subtle fake jab allows Nelson to get his feet square and base established to counter the rush. By the time Jarrett even gets close to Nelson, the ball is already out of Jacoby Brissett’s hands. While this play doesn’t look like much, that fake jab and ability to change up on the fly is another aspect that makes Nelson so good.

Even in other reps where he was aggressive with Jarrett, he was still able to find success with his strength and footwork. He attacks Jarrett off the snap on this rep and quickly establishes his base with his hands on the talented rusher. He is able to slide with Jarrett and readjust his feet after every desperate move Jarrett makes while attempting to get free. Big Q stays in control throughout the entire rep and is able to wear down the pass rusher until he is completely taken out of the play. For anyone who has studied Grady Jarrett over the years, it is remarkable how a second year play like Nelson was able to control him all game in many different ways.

Our final pass pro example shows Nelson controlling yet another stunt, but this rep really shows off how nimble and quick he is. He passes off his defensive tackle to Castonzo on the left side then works back to the middle on the twisting end. The defensive end nearly beats Nelson, as he quickly jumps outside and gets a step on him. Nelson, however, showcases immense strength, holding the defender back with one arm until he can readjust and control the block. The ability to hold the end back with his pure strength and then readjust his feet quickly are reasons why he is an elite talent in this league.


Run Blocking

Now to the fun stuff. Quenton Nelson has been one of the league’s best run blockers since entering the NFL last season. How has been so dominant? One of the factors is just how athletically gifted he is. At 6’5” 330 pounds, he shouldn’t be able to move the way that he does. Look at this first clip as an example. He quickly climbs to the second level on the stretch play and is able to kick the outside linebacker out of the play to spring the big run. His ability to climb to that second level with ease and stay on balance to eliminate linebackers and safeties is incredible for a man his size.

Against elite defensive tackles, he isn’t going to win every single rep with his strength and power. That was the case here, as Nelson lined up against defensive tackle Jurrell Casey who is one of the best defensive tackles in the league in terms of leverage and strength. Nelson initially gets beaten off the snap as Casey is able to move him into the backfield. Nelson is very agile, though, as he understands he is beaten so he twists his body. By twisting his body and showing great hip flexibility, he is able to angle Casey away from the run and win the block overall.

Nelson is elite in space, too. The Colts often times rely on him to pave the way on crucial downs. Late in the game against the Falcons with the Colts needing a first down, they run behind their star left guard. He pulls around the corner and gets out into space quickly. There is only a helpless corner in the way and Nelson closes in on the block. The cornerback wisely falls to the turf before Nelson can deliver the big block but this play to the outside springs Marlon Mack for the game-clinching big run.

On Marlon Mack’s big run on Sunday against the Chiefs, Nelson was again the catalyst on the play. He chips the nose tackle to help center Ryan Kelly before climbing to the linebacker at the second level. Once he engages at the second level, he begins directing the linebacker out of the play. With Mack trying to find space in the whole, Nelson is able to direct his defender multiple ways according to where Mack is cutting. He drives the linebacker out of the play as Mack cuts off his backside for the big gain.

These final two clips showcase Nelson's pure power and strength. In clip one, he chips the nose tackle hard before climbing to the second level and taking away the linebacker. By controlling both the linebacker and the nose tackle, he is able to spring Mack for the big gain. In the second clip, he just manhandles the defensive tackle and knocks him back off the snap of the ball with his incredible power. Whether he is pulling in space or blocking inside, he is an elite run blocker.


Pancakes/Finishing

This last section of the film room will feature all the pancakes and finishers that Nelson has had a hand in during this season. He is an absolute wrecking ball and one of the nastiest finishers in all of football. So, sit back and enjoy these slow motion videos of Quenton Nelson driving players into the ground.

First clip is Nelson finding work in pass protection. He lays out the spinning Melvin Ingram on the play for the highlight reel hit.

Nelson relentlessly pursues linebacker Rashaan Evans on this play and finishes him into the ground with some insane power and strength.

First play of the game against Grady Jarrett and Nelson puts him in the dirt by using the snatch and trap technique.

Here, a hapless Defender tries to spin to the inside on Nelson. This turns out to be a poor decision as Nelson drives him off balance and into the ground.

Another beautiful snatch and trap move by Nelson to use the defender’s leverage against him on the bull rush and bury him in the ground.

Relentless strength and leg drive to finish this play with the defender on his back.

Again on the goal line, Nelson is able to get lower than the man across from him and finish the block.

Final clip showcases yet another snatch and trap where he uses a defender’s leverage against them. Nelson is one of the smartest and most physical lineman in all of football.


Final Thoughts

Some Colts fans and even members of the National media actually questioned the Colts when they selected Quenton Nelson with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Their reasoning for this was mostly regarding the value of taking a position like offensive guard in the top ten with other “more valuable” positions available.

The biggest response to that now is that Nelson isn’t just a guard. He isn’t even just one of the better lineman in the league. Quenton Nelson is one of the best overall players in the NFL. He is an absolutely *dominant* player who is playing some of the best football that we have ever seen at the guard position. He looks even better than he did last year, when he was a First Team All-Pro.

I don’t know what the future holds for this Colts team but one thing is for certain. The Colts have a superstar on this team and his name is Quenton Nelson.