One of the biggest questions the Texas Longhorns had to answer entering the 2018 season was how to replace Poona Ford in the middle of the defense.
In his final season in burnt orange, Chris Nelson proved to be the answer to that end.
After being a key rotational piece during his sophomore and junior seasons, Nelson was elected as a team captain and started all 14 games as the centerpiece of the Longhorn front.
In his one season as the full-time starter, Nelson notched 39 tackles and 5.5 for loss, which compares well to Ford’s senior season — 34 tackles and 8.5 for loss — which earned him Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors. The statistics don’t tell the true story for either player, as the Todd Orlando’s defense isn’t built for the defensive tackles to be statistical playmakers. Their primary role in the 3-3-5 scheme is to occupy space and blockers, allowing the linebackers to make plays.
Nelson did just that, creating space for the Longhorns’ playmaking linebackers, Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler, to rack up 177 tackles and 25 tackles for loss.
His performance in his final season was strong enough to earn him a spot in the East/West Shrine Bowl, where seniors with NFL hopes have a shot to impress scouts in both practices and the game. Nelson performers well during the week, turning in several disruptive plays in the game, as well as bullying offensive linemen in individual drills.
Thanks to his performance in both the practices and the Shrine Game itself, Nelson impressed scouts like NFL.com’s Alex Dunlap and, according to the Draft Network, landed a meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The skillset Nelson presents is one of a traditional space-eater in the middle of a 3-4 alignment, which 12 different NFL teams employ as part of their defensive game planning. The aforementioned Tampa Bay Buccaneers added Todd Bowles as their defensive coordinator, who ran a defensive scheme with the New York Jets that is heavily influenced by 3-4 ideas.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 315-pounds, Nelson is a load in the middle of a defense with a low center of gravity, requiring the full attention of one blocker and often times a second. When taking on a single blocker, Nelson shows an ability to hold steady at the point of attack or even push the line of scrimmage back, causing pile-ups that allow the linebackers and defensive ends to make plays.
Nelson brings much to the table, but according to many outlets, including the Dallas Morning News, he is not likely to hear his name called as a part of the NFL Draft. However, expect Nelson to be a high-priority free agent after the draft concludes, which could allow him to find an ideal fit and potentially make an impact.