4) Quenton Nelson, OG, Indianapolis Colts
It was hardly a coincidence Andrew Luck -- and the Colts as a whole -- returned to prominence when Nelson entered the fray. With the No. 6 overall pick earning first-team All-Pro honors in Year 1, Luck finally had the dominant offensive lineman in front of him that the prior regime failed to bring aboard for years. Nelson gave Luck time to be sensational (the QB was sacked just 18 times, as opposed to 41 when he was last healthy in 2016), made good running backs great (Marlon Mack blossomed in Year 2) and helped bring cohesion to the entire line.
Oh, and the Colts shocked many by winning nine of their last 10 regular-season games and marching to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Colts rookie offensive guard lived up to every bit of his draft billing after being selected with the 6th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame.
Nelson started all 16 games for the Colts offensive line last year, en route to making a Pro Bowl appearance and becoming a 1st-Team All-Pro as a rookie.
Per Pro Football Focus, Nelson was their highest graded left guard last season.
‘Big Q’s’ notable addition impacted the entire offensive line and improved what had consistently been a deficiency since Andrew Luck’s arrival in 2012.
The Colts offensive line went from surrendering the most sacks (56) in 2017 to allowing the fewest sacks (18) in 2018. Via Football Outsiders, the unit went from 18th (2017) to 4th best (2018) in a year’s time—with Nelson being a big reason why.
No, Nelson cannot take all of the credit.
Ryan Kelly had his best season (when healthy), Mark Glowinski proved to be a diamond in the rough at the other guard spot, and Braden Smith was a revelation as a rookie starting at right tackle. The Colts offense also once again received rock solid play from veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo as well.
Having Andrew Luck back fully healthy also certainly helped.
Frank Reich’s offense emphasized Luck making quicker reads and throws, and the coaching along the offensive line seemed to improve as a whole (*or really for the entire team*).
However, at a phone booth-built 6’5”, 330 pounds, Nelson was arguably the catalyst of the group—laying out bone crushing blocks, shoring up the pass protection in the interior, and giving the Colts offensive line a much needed mean streak and overall nastiness.
Nelson is by no means a dirty player, but he’s the type of player that’s going to play through the whistle and ‘make you feel him’—even after it. He’s going to be one of the first players at practice and among the last to leave.
That type of mentality and physical play wore off on the rest of the Colts offensive line, as they became one of the league’s top units, and incredibly cohesive, with no real weak link.
In reality, Nelson may not be as indispensable as say Andrew Luck—or any other top NFL quarterback for that matter, but the fact that he’s an offensive guard and making such a national list speaks to how great of a player he really is.
Offensive guard is not a sexy position—it’s far from glamorous, and is often overlooked. It’s purely a ‘dirty work’ position in the trenches.
Some critics of Nelson’s high selection still think that the position isn’t overly valuable, pretending football is still played how it was in the early 2000’s—failing to acknowledge that the modern game of football has evolved.
However, having one of the best guards in football like Nelson along the offensive line goes a long way towards protecting the Colts franchise player, Andrew Luck, and ensuring that he’s healthy and upright—or at the very least, mitigating his injury risk.
Simply put, Nelson is a special talent for the Colts and at the ripe old age of just 23 years old, he should be for a really long time. The type of player that is a perennial Pro Bowler or All-Pro for the next decade or so—and while donning the horseshoe, at that.