Saturday night was a huge night for the Wisconsin Badgers football program. Not only did the Badgers extend their bowl winning streak to four games, they also won 13 games for the first time in program history. This is the type of exclamation point to end this historic season that the Badgers needed to possibly get them into the conversation of the “elite” football programs nationally.
Speaking of exclamation points, redshirt junior cornerback Nick Nelson announced after the Orange Bowl victory that he will be entering the 2018 NFL Draft. Nelson, in his only season playing for the Badgers after transferring from Hawaii, led the nation in pass break-ups and was tasked with covering the opponents’ best receiver on a week-to-week basis.
#Badgers CB Nick Nelson, who announced he will enter draft tonight, said he received a Round 2 grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.— Jason Galloway (@Jason_Galloway) December 31, 2017
Nelson’s hype started during the 2016-17 season, when he was practicing but unable to play due to NCAA transfer rules. He received rave reviews from the coaching staff, and that led into the 2017 season. Reports that he could leave Madison early started as soon as fall camp, but were confirmed Saturday night.
Nelson was a huge reason for the success of Wisconsin’s front seven this season, as his ability to play man coverage without the need for safety help over the top allowed defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard the freedom to draw up more aggressive schemes for the Badgers’ nation-leading defense.
I think Nelson’s second-round second-round grade from the advisory committee is spot-on. While I don’t think Nelson is quite in this draft class’ elite tier of cornerbacks, he’s very solidly in that next group of impressive cover men. He has good size at 6’0 and around 200 pounds. He’s shown the ability to limit top collegiate wide receivers and be sticky in coverage—at times too sticky, but that’s about his only weakness at this point. Nelson also appears to be an able tackler, but it’ll be up to him to commit to consistently being an able and willing tackler in the NFL.
Nelson also told the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway that the advisory committee said that its only question mark would be his 40-yard dash time, and that it could be a catalyst for his stock heading into the draft.
“It said second round, depending on my 40, really,” Nelson said. “I know that, if it’s top three rounds, you might as well go. I don’t think I could help (my draft stock) coming back to school. The opportunity presented itself, and I just went."
From what I’ve seen of Nelson in person, I would venture a guess that he’s somewhere in the 4.48–4.52 range, which isn’t elite speed by any means, but is far from an issue or liability. The Detroit Lions selected Teez Tabor in the second round a year ago after he ran a 4.65 at the NFL Scouting Combine and a 4.70 at his pro day. While Tabor was an exception to the rule, somewhere around the 50th-pick range seems right for Nelson, who has certainly made the most of his time in Madison.