Just a skosh over a year ago, May 28th, 2018 to be exact, the Oakland Raiders drafted Nick Nelson, cornerback from the University of Wisconsin. Since that day, Nelson has started three games and appeared in ten altogether. Throughout his ten games played, Nelson has recorded 20 combined tackles (10 solo, 10 assisted), a singular pass defensed, and a fumble recovery.
Nelson’s rookie year stats are typical of that of a backup cornerback, but logging three starts in his rookie year helps moving forward.
Recording three starts is a positive step for Nelson’s career because most expected less. The Raiders drafted Nelson, as a backup to Rashaan Melvin, a signing many hoped would turn into a long-term deal. Now, with the Raiders letting Melvin walk, Nelson could see time.
Nelson looks to line up at cornerback opposite of Gareon Conley. When comparing the combine results of the two, Conley boasted a faster 40-yard dash time by less than a tenth of a second (4.52 > 4.44). Yet, Nelson executed 17 bench press reps compared to Conley’s 11. Comparing the two drills paints Nelson as a stronger version of Conley.
In college, Conley recorded six interceptions, while Nelson recorded none. Meanwhile, Nelson led the Big Ten in pass breakups in 2017. The lack of interceptions is concerning, but recording a pass breakup is a superior alternative to allowing a catch. Nelson also plays a far more physical game than Conley. Unfortunately, Nelson’s 11 penalties were the most in the Big Ten in 2017.
The comparison to Conley remains a hopeful one. Both Nelson and Conley arrived from Big Ten schools. In addition, each missed time in their first season due to injuries. The hopefulness comes in light of Conley’s eventual success. Conley took his time adjusting, but has not looked back since finding his footing. The hope is that Nelson could repeat this.
A projected second-round talent, Nelson fell to the Raiders in the fourth following a meniscus tear at a pre-draft workout. The Raiders collected a handful of “steals” in their more recent drafts. Nelson (2018), Conley (2017), and Hurst (2018) all fell to various depths to land on the Raiders. Coincidentally, these three steals come from the Big Ten.
Nelson’s athleticism is certainly NFL-ready. His talent gives him the potential to stand out, but the penalties will be something to watch.
Best Case Scenario
Ideally, Nelson will find himself noted as a rising star by the end of the season, similar to the improvement Conley saw. Hopefully, Nelson, Conley, Joyner, Joseph, and the rest of the Raiders’ defensive back corps will have the team’s 2018 defensive stats feeling like something from the distant past.
The thought of Nelson playing to his full potential inspires hope for the future. The two young cornerbacks stocked with potential, along with a proven safety in Lamarcus Joyner, should be poised to make things difficult for any passing attack that comes their way.