One of the nation’s top offensive line prospects in 2014, Nelson is the second-highest ranked offensive linemen pledge, No. 46 overall per Scout.com, among Brian Kelly’s eight recruiting cycles.
24/7 ranked Nelson as the fifth-best offensive tackle in 2014 while Rivals had him the nation’s third-best offensive tackle prospect and a 5-star recruit. A starter in 23 of 25 games since (he missed back-to-back starts against USC and Navy in 2015 as a result of an ankle injury at Clemson), Nelson earned second-team All-America honors from Sports Illustrated in 2016, grading as Mel Kiper’s No. 1 ranked offensive guard, nationally.
He was one of seven Irish players named a team captain in the off-season.
- Class: Senior (Junior eligibility)
- On the depth chart: Starting left guard
- Post-spring status: Unchanged
NELSON AT HIS BEST
Firing off the snap, engaging a defensive tackle, and riding him out of the play through the whistle. Or if you prefer, pulling from left to right to seek and secure the opposing middle linebacker in the hole as he did to spring Josh Adams for a game-opening 74-yard sprint to the shadow of the goal line against USC.
“They’re committed to being great teammates, to improving. They didn’t come back to not get better. They came back to get better.” – Harry Hiestand on the returns of both Nelson and fellow captain Mike McGlinchey
BEST CASE SCENARIO
First-team All-America honors for a contending Irish team.
Nelson is one of a handful of Irish players realistically in the running for All-America status (first, second, or third team) this fall, though none among them have played to that lofty level as of yet.
Nelson is arguably the best bet of the bunch, and perhaps the best at his position in the nation.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Individual accolades that don’t produce team success.
The NFL beckons and as such, this will likely be Nelson’s last season in South Bend. Though he was “good” (at worst) last season and his best football lies ahead, it’s also true that for all of Nelson’s promise, his “best” has not yet translated where it will matter for Irish fans:
Enough wins on the football field.
Nelson and the 2015 Irish offensive line were arguably the best of the new millennium in South Bend. But they were crushed by Clemson and stymied by Ohio State – two of the four opponents faced that fall that were peers of the talented Irish squad.
Nelson has a professional future and he’s likely in line for All-America honors this season – it’d be nice if those plaudits are attached to a running game that dominates and a passing attack that comes through in the close contests that doubtless await.
At present, Chris Watt ranks as the best guard of the Brian Kelly era.
Watt, like Nelson, redshirted as a true freshman, but Nelson is unlikely to follow Watt’s lead and return for a fifth season of collegiate competition before plying his trade in the NFL. (Watt could have made the leap – he was a senior starter on the 2012 squad.)
A more apt comparison to Nelson’s career arc is center Jeff Faine (1999-2002), who likewise redshirted as a freshman, eschewed what would have been a too-early jump to the NFL as a true junior, and returned for his senior season of 2002 as a captain who later earned All-America honors for a 10-win Irish squad.
Few would object if Nelson furnished a similar senior season.