Notre Dame Guard Quenton Nelson grew up a fan of Giants Center Shaun O'Hara, and O'Hara thinks he's a good fit for Big Blue:
The youngest of 39 tough nieces and nephews, Quenton Nelson was the smallest in the family growing up and therefore took his share of lickings. Not anymore. College football's biggest and baddest defenders also learned to give up that fight over the course of Nelson's standout career as a guard for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 329 pounds at this week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Nelson has the potential to be a top-five or at least top-10 pick in this year's draft. Those spots are usually reserved for quarterbacks, pass rushers, running backs and tackles – not interior offensive linemen.
But Nelson, who hails from Holmdel, N.J. – "I'm in central Jersey so I grew up a Giants fan" – and played at Red Bank Catholic High School, isn't your average plug-and-play starting guard. He is a game-changer.
"I think I should be talked in that regard, the top five conversation, because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, that have just been working on interior guys and you need guys to stop them," Nelson said. "And I think I'm one of those guys. You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that's fine, they can step up into the pocket and make a throw, which a lot of quarterbacks, if given the opportunity, can do that. So that's what I give -- is a pocket to step up in. I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness, and establishing the run also opens up the passing game, so I think it's a good choice."
The free agency market reflects the importance of guys like Nelson. Guards are getting paid more these days, so it would make sense they might start getting draft higher. Earlier in the week, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman spoke on the value of guards, pointing to the success of the Saints, who have a history of revamping their line up the middle for future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Recently, they drafted Andrus Peat 13th overall in 2015 and last year signed Larry Warford, who went on to a Pro Bowl season at right guard.
"What did they do? They had two hog molly guards," Gettleman said, "because there isn't a quarterback alive that's going to get in the huddle and say, 'OK, boys, let 'em up the middle and I'll deal with it.' You need to be firm in the middle."
That's how the Giants built their Super Bowl teams that Nelson grew up watching. That is, when he wasn't getting picked on by his 38 siblings and cousins combined. Nelson mentioned Ring of Honor inductee Chris Snee and center Shaun O'Hara during his press conference.
"They had a great interior offensive line and won a couple Super Bowls," said Nelson, who tied for second among offensive linemen with 35 reps in the bench press. "So that was awesome being a Giants fan."
O'Hara, now an analyst for NFL Network, is keeping an eye on the fellow New Jersey native.
"He's a true O-lineman," O'Hara told Giants.com after watching the offensive linemen work out on Friday. "He cares about one thing – just being the best at his craft. He wants to impose his will, and that shows up on film. The guy looks for work. He wants to suffocate the guy he's trying to block. He just wants to completely eliminate him. I love that. That's the kind of guy you want to play next to and the kind you want to play with. I think his physical attributes and what he does on the field is phenomenal – that's a huge talent – but I also think the type of player he is is almost as important and the culture that he's going to bring and the competition he is going to bring. He's going to make an offensive line group and an offense better just because of the work ethic, the mindset."
O'Hara then compared him to a player he lined up next to for seven seasons.
"He reminds me a lot of Chris Snee," O'Hara said. "Chris was a really quiet kid coming in, powerful as heck. He should have been a first-round guy. Quenton kind of reminds me of that. The way that he plays with brute force is fun to watch. He's not a glitz and glamor guy like Mike McGlinchey (one of the top-rated offensive tackles who played next to Nelson at Notre Dame) – they call him the mayor. Quenton is 'just tell me when it's my turn to kick ass.'"
The best players at his position think that way.
"I would say the nastiness probably comes from being the youngest and getting picked on a lot, had a lot of frustration to take out on the football field," said Nelson, who met Snee, now a college scout for Tom Coughlin's Jaguars, once at a practice. "So, yeah, I want to play nasty. I play clean, though."