The San Francisco 49ers have plenty of needs in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, but a top target should be Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson.
It wouldn’t be the flashiest of picks, but the San Francisco 49ers would be wise to grab Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson with their first selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Sure, the sexier pick would be someone like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Or an elite EDGE like NC State’s Bradley Chubb.
But Nelson is the smarter pick.
At 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds, Nelson is about as close a plug-and-play lineman there is in this upcoming draft. Combine that with the issues San Francisco has along its own offensive line, making this move should be tops on general manager John Lynch’s to-do list.
Before we break down the player, let’s take a look at the need.
San Francisco 49ers
49ers O-Line a Primary Weakness
The Niners O-line might be moderately improved over the crop we saw in 2016, but not by much.
According to Football Outsiders, this year’s group ranks 25th in pass protection and 15th in run support. That’s up from the 30th and 32st rankings, respectively, from a year ago. But there are other stats to back up just how bad this unit has been.
Interior O-line play has been the biggest culprit, namely left guard Laken Tomlinson.
PFF gives Tomlinson a 46.9 overall grade, which ranks 43rd out of 77 qualifying guards. While he was little more than an emergency fill-in for second-year guard Joshua Garnett (knee, IR), this isn’t exactly a worthwhile upgrade.
Garnett could return, but no one knows how the 49ers’ current regime views him in the long-term scheme of things. And with fellow guard Brandon Fusco scheduled to hit free agency, it’s clear the Niners need an influx in talent.
In the bigger picture, though, grabbing a player like Nelson would help ensure the team’s biggest new asset, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, is adequately protected in coming seasons.
Quenton Nelson Scouting Report
Our friend Jon Dove over at With the First Pick broke down some of Nelson’s strengths and weaknesses:
"His dominance as a run blocker starts with his low pad level which he uses to help him roll his hips and deliver a jolt. That initial jolt is more effective because Nelson is committed to gaining inside hands. He then velcros to this target and generates a push.Nelson’s heavy hands make it difficult for the defender to disengage and help him control the action. This is also a nasty player who plays to the whistle and wants to deliver punishment. …His pass protection could use some work, but he has an elite anchor. He is able to absorb contact, hold his ground and keep pressure out of the quarterbacks face.The area where he needs some work is protecting the gaps. Nelson doesn’t have great lateral quickness which makes him susceptible to quicker pass rushers. Some of these issues are related to his less than ideal awareness."
Some of these traits can be seen on tape, and we looked at a 2016 clip versus Virginia Tech for some relevant examples:
A Fox Sports scouting report suggests Nelson has addressed a number of the bigger issues since last year, though, and teams will likely “covet his ability to move defenders off the line of scrimmage” rather than worry too much about some of his shortcomings in pass protection.
Where Do the 49ers Land Quenton Nelson in the NFL Draft?
With a 1-10 record after 12 weeks, it’s pretty clear the 49ers are going to own a top-five pick in the NFL Draft this April. Possibly No. 1 or No. 2 overall.
Nelson, probably a top-20 player, doesn’t necessarily have the value for Lynch and Co. to grab within this top spot. But with more than a handful of NFL teams out there in need of a quarterback this offseason, a trade-up in what’s looking to be a deeper QB prospect class isn’t out of the question.
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Heck, just remember what the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles did back in 2016 for quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. Those moves seemed to have worked out well enough.
What we’re saying here is, should the Niners have an opportunity to trade down, doing so would net more draft capital in return and make a Nelson selection all the more valuable.
Sure, this would mean passing up on a player like Barkley. But Barkley isn’t a top need. And what’s the point of a top-tier running back without an effective O-line in front of him.
Nelson provides that and then some, which is why he needs to be the 49ers’ top target in the NFL Draft.