Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
High School: Xavier
Key Offers: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford
Matt Nelson flew under the recruiting radar until early 2013, and the lack of current rankings show just that. Given the attention that he has received over the past few months, with offers from the SEC, Big 10, Pac-12 and Notre Dame, Nelson will be in line for very good rankings worthy of a strong BCS-level prospect with loads of potential.
Matt Nelson combines an extremely long frame with impressive athleticism that could make him a powerful weapon at defensive end, linebacker or tight end. Nelson's athletic fluidity is revealed in his offensive highlights. His running motion looks more akin to that of a wide receiver than a 6'8" tight end, as he has very rapid turnover for an athlete of his height. Though he doesn't sink his hips to get in and out of breaks at the top of pass routes on his video, he displays the athleticism of a player who can do just that. Both the turnover and the ability to sink his hips bode well for his potential as a route runner. When the ball arrives, Nelson looks to be a natural hands-catcher, which increases his catch radius and makes him an even more dangerous offensive weapon. Much like his route-running, Nelson's blocking is not prominently displayed on his publicly-available video. He does, however, flash the ability to keep his hips low. That, along with his strength, will be essential to his development as a blocker.
Defensively, Nelson's length, athleticism and speed combination can cause major problems for college offenses. Though he doesn't yet fully utilize his long arms to keep opponents away from his body, he will likely develop that skill over time, as he receives college coaching and is pushed by a higher level of competition. Using his arms will be an attribute of high value as a run defender. When he does use his arms, he is predictably able to quickly disengage from his opponent and chase down the ball carrier. The quick turnover that bodes well for route running also gives him the short-area speed that allows him to accelerate and chase down ball carriers. That acceleration jumps off the tape on plays in which a quarterback or running back attempts to break contain on Nelson's side. He disengages and flattens his pursuit path to cut off the ball carrier and end the play. That skill is likely what drives his recruitment as a linebacker, as good hips, which are important in coverage, and speed are both essential to making those types of plays.
Against the pass, Nelson will have the ability to develop a variety of pass-rush techniques. He shows a very smooth and pronounced shoulder turn, which is a tool that can be combined with his speed and length to develop a very effective swim move for inside or outside rushes and trick-shoulder/rip moves for outside rushes. Much like his run defense, his pass-rush skill can expand exponentially once he fully utilizes his length.
Nelson's status as an outlier with respect to height makes him a special prospect, as he maintains athleticism that is very rare for prospects of his body type. Though his skills are somewhat raw at this stage, probably due to football only recently emerging as his primary sport, the tools are there for him to become an impact player on the BCS level at a number of positions.
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