A top 100-ranked prospect by virtually all of the scouting services, Nelson was unquestionably one of the top offensive linemen in the country coming out of Red Bank Catholic High School in New Jersey where he helped lead the Caseys to the state title game.
In addition to his stellar work as an offensive lineman, Nelson also recorded 42 tackles and seven sacks as a senior while earning second-team all-state honors from the Newark Star-Ledger.
After participating in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Nelson enrolled in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. Working mainly at tackle during his freshman season in 2014, Nelson preserved a year of eligibility, and then stepped into the left guard spot in ’15 as he won the battle with Alex Bars during the pre-season
Nelson played in 12 games and started 11 as he hit the ground running from the first game of the season against Texas. He suffered an ankle injury against Clemson fifth game, missed game six vs. Navy game, and did not start against USC in game seven, although he returned to the lineup against the Trojans when Bars was sidelined with his own ankle injury.
• BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Nelson picks up where he left off and becomes the dominant offensive guard that most in the program anticipate. Since he is in his third season with the Irish, he will be draft eligible and could contend with Michigan State’s Brian Allen, Indiana’s Dan Feeney, Pittsburgh’s Dorian Johnson and Ohio State’s Billy Price for the distinction of the nation’s top offensive guard.
• WORST-CASE SCENARIO
There’s no reason to anticipate a backslide with the hard-working, dedicated Nelson who is one of the toughest, most ferocious interior offensive linemen in the country. If he does struggle with new players to his right (Sam Mustipher) and left (Mike McGlinchey), the worst thing that would happen is he’d return for his red-shirt junior season, which obviously would be beneficial to the Irish.
• CAREER COMPARISON
Although it sounds like extremely heady company in light of Aaron Taylor’s recent nomination for the College Football Hall of Fame, the Irish haven’t had a player of Nelson’s magnitude and productivity at his position since Taylor was a first-team All-American guard in ’92. (Note: Taylor converted to tackle in ’93 and was a first-team All-American once again.)
• DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING
The No. 4-ranked offensive tackle and the No. 46 overall prospect by Scout quickly lived up to this projection. Nelson certainly was capable of playing as a freshman in ’14, but the Irish chose to preserve a year of eligibility, one that he’ll almost undoubtedly never use at Notre Dame.
• NELSON AT HIS BEST
It’s difficult to pick out one game for an offensive lineman, but Nelson clearly was ready to perform at a high level in his first game as a starter versus Texas to open the 2015 season. It’s no coincidence that the Irish averaged better than 200 yards rushing per game for the first time in 15 seasons with Nelson’s elevation to a starting role.
• QUOTE OF NOTE
“His size, strength and toughness are exceptional. What I like best is how important it is to him to be successful. His attitude and his pride about getting his job done are really super qualities. He is just so hungry to get it done and wants to be such a great teammate…That’s why you have those kind of feelings about a guy because you know you can count on him every day. He’s going to lay it on the line for this football team.”
-- ND offensive line coach Harry Hiestand