For the linebacking corps, 2015 was one of the most competitive training camps that the Denver Broncos have known. Quality players didn’t make the final cut against the exceptional inside and outside LBs that survived. The survivors were, in the coaches' estimation, the best of a very strong group.
Three inside linebackers were ‘locks’, unless they were injured or played badly. Former starters Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis weren’t going to be denied. Marshall came in during 2014 after Trevathan went down with injuries. Todd had to pick up the slack after Marshall too was injured.
Davis was impressively aggressive and carried that attitude into camp. Steven Johnson was viewed as a fourth lock, but the coaches saw it differently. They took on former No. 242 overall pick Corey Nelson at ILB instead, releasing Johnson. Let’s find out why.
Corey Nelson was born on April 22nd, 1992, in Dallas, the son of Cedric and Camisha Nelson. His mother works for the State Fair of Texas. In his downtime, Nelson enjoys writing poetry. He majored in communication at Oklahoma.
Nelson was ranked as a five-star recruit by Scout.com, the 5A Player of the Year. He ranked as a four-star recruit by ESPN and Rivals.com. Nelson was named first team All-American by MaxPreps.com, with 133 tackles, nine sacks and 16 tackles for a loss.
Corey had five blocked field goals in high school, which helped earn him a Parade Magazine All-American. Nelson was an All-State defensive at the end his sophomore season. He was an Under Armour All-American and the AP 5A Defensive Player of the Year. Other rankings:
No. 12 outside linebacker (Rivals.com)
No. 12 outside linebacker (Scout.com)
No. 23 player in Texas (Rivals.com)
No. 159 overall player (Rivals.com)
Nelson came to Denver out of the University of Oklahoma. He had a monster sophomore season, including 5.5 sacks. That was the second highest total for a LB in the history of the school. Nelson’s play cooled somewhat in his junior year.
He was back to tearing up the league in his senior season, when a torn pectoral muscle ended his year in October. He’d been selected to the Academic All-Big 12 Teams in 2011 (first team) and 2012 (second team).
When the injury came, he was up to 27 tackles, with three tackles for a loss, one interception, one pass broken up and a sack in five games. The injury meant missing the NFL Scouting Combine and all the attention he might garner there. He recovered completely from the pectoral injury in the offseason in time to show off his skills on his Pro Day. Corey told Charlie Campbell,
"I give God all the glory for that. I ran a 4.64. I weighed in at 231. I bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times, which is outstanding coming off the injury that I had, so I showed that I'm back to 100 percent and I can compete while getting stronger. It was an amazing feeling to go out and perform well. The scouts told me I looked fast and explosive. After the past few months of rehab and training, it was an amazing feeling that day.
"Right now, I just weigh myself and I'm up to 231 (listed on roster @ 226). I'm trying to get up to 235, but the weight feels great. It's all good weight, nothing bad. I eat healthy and do well with my nutrition. Man, I'm feeling good at 231. It is an amazing look for me. I was playing at 220 or 225 in college, so to add five to six pounds of muscle after rehab is an amazing feeling."
“After an impressive start to the year, his 2013 season ended early with a torn pectoral muscle. Prior to the injury, Nelson played well for the Sooners. He recorded 27 tackles with three tackles for a loss, one interception, one pass broken up and a sack in five games. The senior had good seasons in 2012 and 2011 and was a Second-Team All-Big XII selection as a sophomore.”
College to the Pros
At Oklahoma, Nelson played 3-3-5, 4-3, 4-2-5 and 3-4 defenses. Defenses in the NFL tend to be hybrids, with aspects of many or all of these. That made taking a seventh round flier on a guy with experience in them and a history of sacks and coverage skills worthwhile, especially with Jack Del Rio’s complex hybrid defense.
In 2015, Denver has moved to the simpler Wade Phillips odd front defense, so Nelson’s background should help him. With less to keep in mind, he’ll be quick and efficient if called upon. The injuries to starters Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall last year showed the sense of the decision to keep him on.
Although he wasn’t healed in time for the Combine, Nelson’s pectoral recovered enough for him to have a solid Pro Day on 3/12/14. His Pro Day results:
3-Cone Drill: 7.37
40 Yrd Dash: 4.60
40 Time Range: 4.60-4.65
20 Yrd Dash: 2.65
10 Yrd Dash: 1.61
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 23
Vertical Jump: 33
Broad Jump: 09'09"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.48
Many people agree that Nelson dropped in the draft due to his injury. Others felt that he wouldn’t make it higher in the draft regardless. It was a deep draft for linebackers and he had a background of medical issues. John Elway is among those who disagreed with that. His post-draft comment was succinct:
Nelson showed an early talent for special teams, often the starting path for a rookie player. His speed and intellect were obvious, especially in practices. Corey struggled some in 2014 regulation coverage, though supposedly one of his strengths. The game’s a lot faster at the NFL level. It took him some time to get used to it.
Nelson wasn’t going to let that stop him. He worked incessantly this offseason and it showed this summer. Elway commented,
"He can run, and he's a guy that's up-and-coming as an inside linebacker. He's made huge strides over last year, but also is a guy that is very important on the special teams because of his athleticism and ability to run."
It’s clear that as the year begins, Davis will be the man who usually rotates in and out to keep Trevathan and Marshall fresh. Nelson will handle special teams and any regulation game reps that the coaches deem him ready for. His nose for the ball and his athleticism should gain him a shot at more playing time. For now, Nelson’s just happy that he hasn’t had a call from the Turk.
Nelson was targeted nine times, allowing five receptions this preseason. His Pro Football Focus coverage grade was better than double Steven Johnson’s. His run defense grade was more than double Johnson’s as well. Nelson had better coverage grades for the year 2014, as well as grading +1.5, compared to Johnson’s -5.3 in 2014 run defense.
Nelson should become a top player at special teams and see some backup reps in 2015’s regulation time to develop him. The rest will come with time.
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