To begin day three of the NFL draft, Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie chose Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin with the Raiders pick at 110 overall. Nick Nelson was considered a strong prospect and was garnering 2nd day consideration before a pre-draft visit with the Detroit Lions resulted in a torn meniscus.
With the Raiders also adding what felt like a record number of defensive backs via free agency this off-season. The competition at the cornerback position already figured to be fierce before Nelson was added to the mix.
Nick Nelson took a unique path to the NFL, transferring from University of Hawaii after 2 seasons to University of Wisconsin. The step up in competition didn’t seem to phase Nelson and posted even more pass break ups his junior and final season while playing in the Big 10. Here’s a look at Nelson’s highlight before a jump into his scouting report.
(Measuables and stats are from Dane Brugler’s 2018 NFL Draft Guide.
Nelson is coming into the NFL already possessing strong technique and showed the ability to play multiple types of coverage while at Wisconsin. A recipient of great secondary coaching from former NFL Safety Jim Leonard, Nelson put that coaching to use and was able to disguise his coverage from either press or off alignment.
Nelson established himself as Wisconsin’s top corner and would shadow the opposing teams best WR to either side of the field and occasionally in the slot.
In addition to strong footwork, Nelson’s technique doesn’t disappear when the ball is in the air. Nelson shows the ability to attack the wide receivers hands at the catch point and disrupt would be receptions.
Nelson was also called upon to return punts in college. Nelson is a smooth athlete who can shift gears and string together moves with the ball in his hands.
Nelson oddly enough never posted a single interception in 3 years of college ball. Despite getting his hands on plenty of passes, Nelson said he was pressuring himself to make an INT, but he might just have poor hands.
While Nelson has strong technique from a footwork standpoint in coverage, his 2 hand jam could use some work. He had a tendency to get grabby and drew multiple pass interference calls, some on the same drive.
Nelson is not a sure tackler and put a lot of misses on tape in 2017. He will need to improve getting off blocks as well and add a more physical side of his game before getting on the field as a Raider.
Nelson’s frame (5’11 with 30 inch arms) is less than ideal as a starting NFL corner and he struggled against bigger WRs in college.
Nelson has the technical proficiency to compete for a spot on 3rd downs as a rookie. Nelson’s demeanor on field shows he’s a feisty cover man and can compete with even superior athletes. His game against DJ Moore (widely considered a top WR in 2018 draft) proves he is up for any challenge and can raise his game to match his opponent.
Nelson can’t get taller or longer so he’ll need to continue to lean on his technique and become a craftsmen if he is to create a career for himself in the NFL.
Fit with the Raiders:
Nelson ended up on a great team to develop as a pro due to Guenther’s scheme. Paul Guenther doesn’t play his corners exclusively on one side or the other (or exclusively in the slot) and will change these positions to match the WR’s his team is facing. For this reason Nelson has a chance to come off the bench and cover smaller shifty receivers as a rookie even if only for a few games.
Nelson adds special teams ability as a return man and cover guy. All accounts say he practices hard and prepares the way Gruden and staff covet so the first battle will be securing his spot on the team from his 4th down ability. If Nelson can improve his tackling he has a chance to become the permanent 3rd CB on the Raiders.