Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson draws crowd at NFL Combine

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS — Early in his Notre Dame career, the hardest part of the NFL Scouting Combine process for Quenton Nelson would likely have been Thursday’s press availability.

The former Irish offensive guard used to dread interviews, and he still might.

“My freshman year in college I was very nervous in front of the camera,” Nelson said on day two of the Combine in Indianapolis. “I didn't like it too much — sweating and trying to wipe my forehead because it was all sweaty and glaring.”

Standing at the No. 1 podium during his designated media session, Nelson couldn’t avoid the spotlight. He drew the biggest crowd as he shared the room with many of the other top offensive line prospects. At the same podium an hour earlier, Heisman Trophy finalist Saquon Barkley, took questions from a large crowd.

In 16 minutes that will likely have little impact on which team selects him in April’s NFL Draft, Nelson put on an interview performance that was authentically him.

In one of the first questions he received, Nelson was asked to describe his mindset as a blocker.

"As a blocker, my mindset is being dominant,” he said. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play finishing them past the whistle."

The very next question Nelson showed how he can flatten a poor question like he can flatten a poor defensive lineman.

“Do you consider yourself nasty?” a reporter asked. “That word is always used in terms of your play.”

Nelson simply replied: "Yeah, I would consider myself a nasty player."

As if Nelson’s previous answer and the demolition the 6-foot-5, 329-pound lineman displayed at Notre Dame didn’t exude enough nastiness.

Before his interview session, Nelson knocked out a bench press workout with 35 reps of 225 pounds. Only Will Hernandez, a 6-2, 348-pound guard from UTEP, recorded more on Thursday at the Combine with 37.

Nelson’s bench press performance will only heighten the discussion of how high he could land in the draft. Offensive guards rarely are drafted in the top 10, but Nelson appears to be in the mix. In 2013, the Arizona Cardinals drafted Jonathan Cooper with the No. 7 pick. Two years later, the Washington Redskins selected Brandon Scherff, a tackle from Iowa, at No. 5 and started him at guard.

A top-five pick for Nelson doesn’t seem out of the question. He thinks it would be justified.

“I should be talked in that regard, the top-five conversation, because you have (defensive tackles) that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys,” Nelson said. “You need guys to stop them. 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 into the pocket and make a throw. A lot of quarterbacks, given the opportunity, can do that. That's what I give is a pocket to step up in. I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness. And establishing the run also opens up the passing game. That I think is a good choice."

But does Nelson feel he needs to sell himself as a top-five pick to teams?

"I don't think about it too much. I let my play do all the talking, and my film do all the talking,” Nelson said. “The question was asked, so I answered it.”

Classic Nelson.

The ability to play tackle could bolster Nelson’s draft stock, and he said he feels equipped to play all five positions on the offensive line. But he’s most comfortable at guard.

As of Thursday afternoon, Nelson said no team had talked to him about playing tackle. At that point, he had only had formal meetings with the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers and informal meetings with other teams.

The Giants, who own pick No. 2, would provide a bit of a homecoming for the New Jersey product.

“I grew up a Giants fan watching Geoff Schwartz, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee, all those guys,” Nelson said. “They had a great interior offensive line and won a couple Super Bowls. That was awesome.”

Nelson could also reunite with former Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand at the Chicago Bears, who have the No. 8 selection. He’d be happy with that.

"It would definitely be a good thing to be with coach Hiestand,” Nelson said. “He's developed me into the player I am today. It would be awesome to continue that development at the next level."

Wherever Nelson lands, he’s done about as much as he can do to prove he belongs — even in front of a crowd of cameras.

"I haven't really thought about whether I'm the best player in this draft or not,” Nelson said. “I believe I'm the best offensive lineman. 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."

Quintessential Quenton Nelson here. @BigQ56 describes his mindset as a player.

— Tyler James (@TJamesNDI) March 1, 2018


Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Former Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson speaks during a press conference at the NFL Combine, Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)