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By now, if you've been following the lead-up to the 2018 NFL Draft, you've heard plenty about Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. And whether or not you've watched him play, you may be wondering what in the world is with the top-five, top-10 hype regarding him.
After all, Nelson is a guard. He's not a star tackle that teams necessarily plan to stick across from monstrous edge rushers protecting a quarterback's blind side. And no one takes guards in the top 10 of the NFL Draft.
Well, not no one entirely. Two teams have taken a guard in the top 10 in the last 20 years – the Arizona Cardinals (Leonard Davis went No. 2 overall in 2001, and Jonathan Cooper was taken at No. 7 in 2013) and New Orleans Saints (Kyle Turley, No. 7 overall in 1998). And if you go back farther, you'll see more evidence that Nelson going in the top 10 this year would hardly be without precedent.
That said, you get the picture. Taking a guard that high just isn't a common occurrence. And if you're going to make that leap, that player had better be really good. Like, game-changer good.
Quenton Nelson is that good.
Regardless of offensive line position, he absolutely should be the first offensive lineman off the board in next month's draft.
He's better than any tackle in the draft, including his star teammate Mike McGlinchey, and has the size and measurables to play tackle himself. His strength at the point of attack, solid technique and uncanny awareness allow him to make plays that a lot of current NFL linemen simply can't make.
If you believe in taking the best player available, as many people claim that they do, then your team taking Nelson in the top 10 shouldn't bother you in the slightest.
Nelson's not just a guard. He's a monster that demoralizes and punishes pretty much any defensive player he comes into contact with. And he won't stop coming for you until the game is over. That's the kind of player that can create a new offensive identity for you.
Is that not essentially why the New York Jets drafted Jamal Adams sixth overall last season, to both grab one of the best players in the draft and help drive a culture change on their defense?
Sure, one could make the argument that top-flight safeties are more valuable than offensive guards in today's pass-happy NFL. But the intersection of All-Pro potential, work ethic and straight meanness are shared between the two.
As such, if you're just looking at the position Nelson plays, I'd argue that you're thinking about things too narrowly. Plus, as mentioned before, Nelson has the physical tools to possibly move out to tackle. For now, only the Cincinnati Bengals have approached him about doing this, but I imagine that whatever team drafts him will have this in mind.
But even if he doesn't, come on. People are projecting this man to be Larry Allen-esque (though obviously, he won't be quite as athletic). Though we haven't seen Nelson play in the NFL yet, are you really going to begrudge that kind of player a top-10 selection because of the position he plays?
Nelson could be, and arguably should be, the first non-quarterback taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. And whether or not people think so, his value to an offense and to a team's culture generally are far greater than some might believe.
After all, who else is going to stop the Aaron Donalds, Geno Atkinses, Jurrell Caseys and Flecther Coxes of the world? If a defense's dominance starts with the guys up front, don't you need impact players to counter them? Whatever position they might play, offensive linemen with perennial All-Pro potential and ability to lock up the monsters lining up across from them don't grow on trees.
So here's hoping that he dominates wherever he ends up and perhaps changes some perspectives/makes detractors eat crow.