Quenton Nelson wants to be drafted by the Chicago Bears. And judging by the social media mentions, Bears fans want Nelson to be drafted by the team, too.
But how can it happen? After all, teams rarely prioritize interior linemen high in the draft – particularly in the top-10, where elite talent can be selected at a variety of different impact positions. Traditionally, choosing a guard in the top-10 would be viewed as an irresponsible waste of a draft pick.
HOWEVER, what if I told you the Bears could be different? Let’s talk about how plucking Nelson with the eighth overall pick could actually be the best decision for Chicago.
As the NFL becomes more quarterback-driven than ever, rushing the passer has become that much more important. Thus, protecting the signal caller is perhaps the only thing as valued as finding one to build around in the first place. Pretty simple, right?
When it comes to positional value, tackles are prioritized, because they are responsible for holding off edge rushers who can inflict damage to the quarterback. Further, left tackles have traditionally been the highest-priority for teams drafting offensive linemen, because they protect a quarterback’s blind side (at least for most quarterbacks, like Mitch Trubisky, who are right-handed). But football is also evolving and pressure is coming from everywhere on the gridiron.
Especially in the Bears’ own division.
Consider that in 2018, the Green Bay Packers should boast one of the league’s best 3-4 defensive lines. They already had Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, both of whom ranked in the top-20 among Pro Football Focus’ interior defenders last season, and they’ve since added Muhammad Wilkerson. That gives them three top-50 interior defenders and a player who’s just one year removed from grading out above-average (or better) for four straight years. Wilkerson might not be the player he was from 2012 through 2015, and he might not have to be if he’s sharing the line with Clark and Daniels, but re-uniting with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could help him rediscover his old ways. And that makes him – and the Packers trio of defensive linemen – a serious threat to the Bears’ offense.
And Over in Minnesota, the Vikings are coming off a season in which their defense carried them all the way to the NFC Championship Game. While signing Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed deal steals the spotlight, the addition of Sheldon Richardson to the Vikings’ defensive line brings improvement to an already productive group. Richardson earned an 83.8 grade from Pro Football Focus last year, and teaming him with Linval Joseph (88.7 grade in 2017) gives Minnesota two top-30 interior defenders.
The last two teams to win the NFC North combined to have five of the top-50 interior defensive linemen in football, by PFF’s standards. That alone should put division rivals, like the Bears, on notice.
So you see, protecting the quarterback by beefing up the interior offensive line should be a priority for all teams – but especially the Bears, who have a young one they’d *really* like to succeed.
And from the sounds of it, Quenton Nelson thinks he can help:
Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson effectively selling the importance of guard play:
"You have guys dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, that have been working on interior guys. You need guys to stop them. I'm one of those guys."#NFLCombine2018
— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) March 1, 2018
If protecting quarterbacks is a top priority and a legion of interior defenders is making it hell to do so, then the only logical step is to invest in a blocker capable enough to thwart off the defenses’ attempts.
Of course, this whole plan only works if Nelson makes to #8 unselected.
After all, the New York Giants could stand to improve the protection in front of Eli Manning, who was sacked 31 times in 15 games last season. Case Keenum would likely appreciate some protection from the Denver Broncos’ front five, as he tries to duplicate the career year he had in Minnesota last season.
Andrew Luck would definitely benefit from the Indianapolis Colts drafting Nelson. And because they added later picks through a trade with the New York Jets, the Colts are in a better position to take whatever hit they’ll take for drafting a guard early, because they can add impact position players later. And even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could make a case to take Nelson in an attempt to upgrade at a position that could be crucial to Jameis Winston’s future.
As the NFL evolves, perhaps our perception on player values should as well. So while drafting a guard isn’t sexy by traditional standards, it’s becoming more evident that getting the position right might be more important now than ever. And that could go double for the Bears.