INDIANAPOLIS -- Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson was asked if he’s the best player in this year’s draft, and he wasn’t sure.
“I haven’t really thought about whether I’m the best player in this draft or not, but I believe I’m the best offensive lineman,” the 6-foot-5, 329-pounder said. “That’s all I can control. That’s all I could control my four years of college is trying to be the best that I can be.”
Nelson’s self-evaluation isn’t bragging because every analyst also sees him as the No. 1 offensive lineman in the draft.
He’s actually a unique blend of supreme self-confidence and humility.
Asked if he agrees with the near-unanimous opinion that he’s a Day One plug-and-play starter in the NFL, he quickly concurs and lists the many reasons: “My technique, my effort, my ability to understand the playbook quickly and pick things up quickly; how hard I work, and my desire to get better as a player.”
But when asked what he will bring to his next team, Nelson dials it down a bit.
“Whatever offensive line I join, what I want to do is keep my head down, work very hard, learn a lot from the older guys and earn their respect through my work ethic and how I carry myself day in and day out,” he said. “And then we’ll take it from there.”
Nelson finds himself in the position to be a top-five pick after three years at Notre Dame where he was rarely content to simply win in the trenches.
“As a blocker, my mindset is being dominant,” he said. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take away their will to play the game each play and finishing them past the whistle.”
Nelson, who repped 225 on the bench press 35 times Thursday, is especially dominant in the run game. But he’s pretty impressive in pass pro as well, specifically when the defensive lineman he’s blocking jumps to bat down a pass. Nelson has been known to deliver a blow to the midsection that leaves his opponent flat on his back. As he explains it, he’s simply helping his quarterback.
“I don’t want the d-lineman to jump up and bat the ball down,” Nelson said. “I want us to complete as many passes as we can, so hopefully me doing that and falling on him, too, will stop him from jumping and trying to get a pass breakup.”
Does that discourage them from doing it again?
“I believe so, yeah,” Nelson deadpanned. “It’s a good feeling. There are a lot of things on a football field that you can’t do in real life, and that’s one of them.”
Nelson refers to himself as a “nasty” player and says maybe it comes from being a “Jersey guy” who grew up as the youngest of 30-some nieces and nephews and occasionally got picked on. But it’s difficult to imagine anyone bullying someone built like a vending machine. Nelson believes that nastiness on the field is common to excellence at his position.
“A lot of guys that have been the best players at their position had that characteristic of being nasty,” he said. “Larry Allen, Zach Martin, Brandon Scherff; nasty football players. Those are guys that I look up to and want to be like and play like. So I try to emulate that as best as I can. It probably comes from being the youngest and getting picked on a lot. I had a lot of frustration to take out on the football field, so yeah, I want to play nasty -- I play clean, though.”
Nelson seems to agree with most draft analysts that he’s ready right now to excel at the next level when he talks about how he can help an NFL team neutralize some of the game’s top defensive tackles. That’s why he believes he deserves being talked about as a top-five pick.
“I think I should be talked about in that regard,” he said. “Because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins and Fletcher Cox. They’ve just been working on interior (linemen), and you need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys.
“You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine; they can step up in the pocket and they can throw. A lot of quarterbacks if given the opportunity can do that. That’s what I give is a pocket to step up in, and I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness. Establishing the run also opens up the passing game, so I think it’s a good choice.”
Selecting Nelson is a choice an NFL team will make early in the first round.