The 2019 NFL Draft promises to have a lot of star power on the defensive side of the ball. Even though most of the attention will be focused on the first round selections, plenty of quality defenders will be available on the second and third days of the draft that can contribute right away on NFL rosters. Among these is former Iowa Hawkeye defensive end Anthony Nelson. Attending Waukee High School in Iowa, Nelson started both his junior and senior seasons. In his two seasons, he racked up 12.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, 10 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, and a J.J. Watt-like 24 passes defended. A first-team all-district as a senior, Nelson followed in his father Jeff’s footsteps to play at Iowa.
After redshirting in 2015, Nelson appeared in all 13 games in the 2016 season, getting one start. Despite only starting one game, he finished second on the team in sacks, notching seven. In 2017, Nelson finally led the team with 7.5 sacks and was an honorable selection All-Big Ten in his first season as a full-time starter. As a redshirt junior, Nelson finished his collegiate career with a 9.5 sack season in 2018, this time finishing as a third-team All-Big Ten. With plenty of production under his belt to go along with plenty of upside, Nelson decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
has the look of an NFL defensive end from a length standpoint; athleticism in workouts translate on the field; shows great football I.Q. on the field; if he can’t get to the quarterback, he gets his hands up to knock the ball down; once he beats a tackle to the outside, he uses exceptional leverage to push the pocket and win his assignment; likewise, once he beats a lineman to the inside, he uses leverage to win not-always-favorable match-ups; uses his hands to set up swim moves; has flexibility and experience lining up all along the defensive line in sub-packages; despite not showing exceptional strength, is able to hold his ground when engaged; makes plays near the sidelines and down the field on screens, sweeps, and short passes;
not overly powerful at the point of attack; can play too high at times; sometimes seems a bit slow off the ball (although this could be assignment-driven to counter spread offenses; other times he explodes off the ball); could stand to add a little more mass; stronger in the pass game than in the run game; will probably start career off in nickel situations before maturing to a full-time role
NFL Comparison: Brian Robison
Teams with Need at Position: Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
Projection: Third to fifth round
While not a premier name, Nelson’s pass-rushing ability will not go unnoticed as the draft goes late into its second day. In today’s NFL, teams can’t get enough pass rushers and a team running a 4-3 defense will recognize the tape and ability Nelson possesses. His flexibility and athleticism will make it hard for a team to keep him on the bench during his entire rookie season. Likely a one or two-down player to begin his career, Nelson has a good skill set and body frame to build on to maybe one day become a solid, every-down player in the league.