At the NFL scouting combine, you’re bound to hear your fair share of cliché questions from the thousands of media members in attendance. One of the most popular queries posed to prospect after prospect is, “Who do you model your game after?”
That’s not to say the question doesn’t serve a purpose. For many NFL reporters, there’s not enough time to evaluate the hundreds upon hundreds of college prospects, so the answer provides some insight into how the player perceives their playing style and skill set.
But every once in a while, an interesting trend emerges.
Such has been the case in recent years with interior offense linemen. When asked the question about who they model their game after or who they’ve been studying in preparation for their pro career, one name comes up over and over and over: Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson.
In his third season out of Notre Dame, Nelson is arguably already the best player at his position, earning first-team All-Pro honors in both 2018 and 2019.
“He’s got a great temperament for the O-line, and I think that combined with the really good fundamental technique that he uses, he doesn’t really get in a lot of bad situations or bad positions,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said.
While the term game-wrecker is typically reserved for defensive linemen, Nelson has equatable dominance and must be similarly accounted for playing in the opposite trench.
“I think when you start talking about game-plan wreckers, or just guys on the other side of the ball that you have to be aware of, you have to be aware of him, and where maybe some of the attack points are with their offensive line,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Even in the run game, it may be headed in a different direction, but it may all wind up back at the same spot, if that makes any sense, and those are things that we look at.”
To Detroit’s credit, the interior of the team’s defensive front has been playing exceptionally well the past two weeks, especially against the run. The new pieces — Danny Shelton, Nick Williams and rookie John Penisini — have begun to form the chemistry envisioned when they were added to the roster this offseason.
Those past two games, both wins, the Lions have held their opponents to 110 yards and 2.6 yards per carry. But can they push the pocket against a Colts line that has allowed a league-low eight sacks?
“I think he’s definitely a guy you look at, and you say, ‘OK, what does this guy do really well, and how do you have to play against him to make sure that it doesn’t penetrate the defense in that area?’” Patricia said.
The Lions host the Colts at Ford Field on Sunday at 1 p.m.