The Bears would be more ferocious with a Fighting Irishman providing protection upfront. General manager Ryan Pace entered free agency on March 14 with approximately $63 million in salary cap space. With that money, Pace re-signed eight Bears and convinced seven players to join the storied organization. Pace’s critical transactions were acquiring wide receiver Allen Robinson, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch and tight end Trey Burton. During this transitional period, four-time Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton inked a two-year contract with the Miami Dolphins on March 16. Pace must compensate for the loss of Sitton by drafting Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson with the eighth pick on April 26.
The 6-foot-5, 330-pound Nelson, a consensus All-American, is a once-in-a-generation lineman who would start from the outset and help insulate quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Pace mortgaged the Bears’ short- and long-term future when he chose the 23-year-old Trubisky second overall last spring. Furthermore, one of the main reasons that Pace hired Matt Nagy as head coach is because he’s enthused about Trubisky’s abilities under center.
Trubisky needs to remain upright and feel comfortable in the pocket to meet expectations. Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair are solid blockers who can safeguard Trubisky. Conversely, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and right tackle Bobby Massie are liabilities that could impede Trubisky’s maturation. The 22-year-old Nelson, who some scouts have likened to Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Allen, is a colossal upgrade over both Leno Jr. and Massie and he can adjust to play any position on the line.
“Nelson lined up at left guard for the Irish this past season and that is where he projects at the next level,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
“He has a thick, hulking build — and he’s the nastiest offensive line prospect I’ve ever evaluated. In the run game, he is quick out of his stance and has the ability to completely wash opposing players down the line of scrimmage. He rolls his hips on contact, locks on with a powerful grip and doesn’t let up until he’s finished the job. Nelson is very effective when he works up to the second level on combo blocks and pulls. He can adjust in space and he blocks through the whistle consistently. In pass protection, Nelson possesses an immediate anchor vs. power rushers and effortlessly handles twists and stunts. Overall, Nelson has all of the tools to be the best run blocker in the NFL and he’ll be reliable in pass protection. He’s the easiest player to evaluate in this draft class.”
Signal-callers Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen are destined to be four of the first five collegians selected next week. Beyond the aforementioned passers, running back Saquon Barkley, defensive end Bradley Chubb, cornerback Denzel Ward and Nelson are all projected to go in the top 10. While it’s going to be close, if still available, Nelson is the player who will have the greatest impact in the Windy City. In a passing league, Quenton Nelson possesses all the necessary traits to become a perennial All-Pro as a Bear.