NAME: Anthony Nelson
POSITION: Edge Defender
JERSEY: No. 98
RECRUITMENT RATING: 3-star
WT: 271 lbs
D.O.B.: Not Available
Burst – Not explosive off the ball. Rarely the first defender off the ball, doesn’t threaten with burst or speed to force oversets from opponents. Second step is better than his first, but overall does not possess the arc speed to concern tackles.
Bend – Limited on the outside edge track by his lack of bend. Stiff in the hips and can be pushed up the arc past the pocket even in recovery mode. Does everything he can to soften the edge and create better angles for himself, but even in those situations his feet/hips remain pointed up the field at the apex too often. Does flash some ankle flexibility to tilt the edge through contact on rip moves. Flashes of ability to dip under punches at the top of the arc.
Rush Moves – Can convert speed-to-power at a solid rate, driving tackles back into the pocket with fully extended arms, impressive leg drive and good enough pad level. Big concern: Is he explosive enough off the ball to conjure up the force needed to displace much better talent when he bull rushes? Has a bevy of moves that he uses to soften the edge, including the rare snatch-and-swim. Cross chops, fake long arms, rip and push-pulls are frequent. Doesn’t look that strong, but has tossed many tackles with push-pull. Strings moves together well, but could be more sudden in his movements.
Counters – Fluid thinker on his feet, takes advantage of oversets to alter his plan to inside moves if the path is available. Active hands to constantly search for the advantageous track to the pocket. Doesn’t have the change of direction or fluid spin move to get quick wins off pass sets mistakes.
Run Defense – In space, there will be some questions, but at the point-of-attack, Nelson consistently tossed around opponents in a phone booth. Fires off the ball with full arm extension, perfect hand placement and relatively low pads. Keeps his frame clean and excels at shedding blocks. Few double teams that he saw drove him off the ball, pad level is good, but so long and lanky that elite technicians can create some movement on him if they break his hands. David Edwards and Wisconsin’s trey blocks got him moving a couple times.
Lateral Mobility – Labored mover in space. Primary concern as a run-defending edge is his lack of range to the boundary when the run gets outside of him. Tight in the hips laterally and can struggle to open and pursue quickly.
Mental Processing/Vision – Recognizes when a tackle has overset and will try to dip back inside of them. Block recognition is excellent, will fight playside and is difficult to pin down due to length and hand usage. Steps down well in unblocked situations, could be more violent taking on pullers, but looked like Iowa taught wrong-arm technique over box on the edge.
Tackling/Finishing – No issues here. Not a big hitter, but long arms allow him to consistently finish outside his frame. Has the length to create strip-sacks at the top of the arc with his reach, but didn’t force any fumbles last year.
Competitive Toughness – Extremely physical and desired path to the quarterback is through his opponent. Motor and physicality are not a question mark. High character prospect who excelled academically.
Athleticism/Size – Unbelievable length and frame. A little bit lanky and could stand to add some bulk. Athletically average best. Combine will be crucial to his draft stock.
BEST TRAIT – Hand Usage
WORST TRAIT – Burst/Bend
RED FLAGS – None
Anthony Nelson has impressive tape and eye-popping physical traits, but his athletic limitations are evident enough as a pass rusher that you wonder where the full-time fit is for him in the NFL. Despite his lack of explosiveness (very average first step) and bend (tight in the hips), Nelson still manages to corner at an impressive rate against college competition due to a wonderful bevy of rush moves off the edge.
Will those Ws continue at the NFL level, where pass rush athleticism is vital to the success of most edge rushers? Even if Nelson never becomes a double-digit sack artist, which I don’t expect him to, he’s a valuable and safe mid-round addition who can bring impressive run defense, interior nickel rush ability and high character to an organization. Hopefully we get to see him play inside a bit during Senior Bowl week.
PROS: Is a heavy-handed defender who consistently shoots his paws into the chest of blockers. Has great length, given his tall frame and carries his weight well. Stuffs up blockers with a strong base and is a competent block shedder with hands late in order to disengage and challenge the ball carrier. Combines run defending skills with a pleasant level of versatility rushing the passer. Has an effective bull rush to collapse finesse tackles back into the lap of the quarterback, but also shows secondary hand counters to create space when pressing up the field and looking to turn the corner. Motor runs at a high pace with consistency, has found himself flipped to the far side of the field in pursuit of the football. Fairly safe prospect with a high floor, although athletic ability will put ceiling into question.
CONS: Plays with notable tightness in the hips, isn’t a bendy pass rusher and as a result isn’t going to win at steeper angles when rushing the passer. Will need to soften angles with hands and power for consistent pressures. Had trouble against top competition (Wisconsin’s David Edwards) to extend hands consistently and finalize separation in order to address the ball carrier. First step explosiveness is not a trait Nelson will be able to lean on, so snap anticipation and timing will be paramount. Does not illustrate the same anchor when tasked with playing with width and stringing out plays, a byproduct of tight hips and inability to open lower half to the sideline and flow with blockers freely.