San Francisco 49ers: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Assuming Jimmy Garoppolo re-signs with the 49ers this offseason, they will not be in the running to take a quarterback early. Their defense has its pieces with youngsters like DeForest Buckner, Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas, but they have very little talent to surround their new franchise signal-caller with.
Their best offensive weapon is Carlos Hyde, who has proven to be an above-average running back when healthy. Pierre Garçon is also a decent player, but he wouldn’t be a No. 1 wide receiver on most NFL teams. Wide receiver is probably their biggest need, but there isn’t a pass-catcher in this class that will be in the running for the first overall pick.
That brings us to the offensive line. Outside of veteran Joe Staley, the 49ers are very thin up front. Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Kilgore have been playing poorly this season, and Brandon Fusco is a free agent at the end of the year.
A back like Barkley would be an interesting pick, but there’s another offensive prospect out there who might not be as sexy of a pick, but would arguably be just as good: Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Nelson is the best interior offensive line prospect to enter the NFL Draft over the past 10 years. Not since 2013 has a guard went in the top 10, which he will likely end up doing. No guard has gone in the top five since 2001 when Leonard Davis was selected second overall. Nelson has a chance to go somewhere around that spot. That’s how good he is.
Nelson has pretty much everything you’d want out of an interior lineman. At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, he has the size — and the strength — to physically match up with any defensive lineman. He packs a powerful punch and can pancake defenders on any given play, regardless of whether it’s a pass or a run. He plays to the whistle and aims to annihilate his opponent on every single snap.
Nelson isn’t just a big brute, though: he’s as athletic as they come. He has been used a handful of times by Notre Dame on pull blocks, and he has been incredibly efficient in those situations. He has quick feet, takes great angles to defenders and rarely gets thrown off balance, which can be attributed to his square frame and flawless technique.
The 49ers need help just about everywhere, so they’re likely to go with the best player available. In the 2018 NFL Draft, that may just be Nelson.
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