Senior cornerback Justis Nelson is often maligned, but there can be little doubt about his importance to the Red Raiders in 2016. Nelson has been pegged a likely starter all along, but with the departure of cornerback Nigel Bethel, the likelihood is now a virtual certainty.
With 23 career starts to his name, Nelson will be Tech’s most experienced defender. And, given that Kliff Kingsbury has tapped him as one of the defense’s spokesmen to the public, it’s quite clear that leadership will also be expected from the Mesquite native.
But experience and leadership aside, what Tech most needs from Nelson is durability and solid play. Last season Nelson notched 44 tackles, two interceptions, four pass breakups, and six passes defended. Nothing about that stat line is particularly impressive or terrible. The reality, however, is that improved play from Nelson is a must.
At 6-foot-2, Nelson certainly has the length to be a blanket on the outside. He also flashes good ball skills at times, as was shown in his win-clinching interception against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl his freshman year.
As of this writing, there are four pure corners who will likely see most of the snaps next season: Nelson, Paul Banks, Thierry Nguema, and D.J. Polite-Bray. (Tevin Madison will probably see more action at nickel and safety.) Additionally, true freshmen Desmon Smith and DaMarcus Fields will be given every opportunity to contribute. And it must be said that there are question marks about all of those players. But Justis Nelson is the player who will most be counted upon to have a good season.