Sep 14, 2013; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Corey Nelson (7) during the game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Oklahoma won 51-20. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The Broncos made some surprising picks on draft weekend 2014, but their final pick may have been one of the most intriguing.
In the seventh round with the 242nd pick, the Broncos made the call to former Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson, a senior who this past season was derailed by a torn pectoral injury, the same injury that kept Elvis Dumervil out a full season for the Broncos a couple of years back.
Nelson’s fall in the draft was likely due in large part to that particular injury, which cut his senior season to just six games, but prior to that injury, he was enjoying arguably the best season of his career and based on what I’ve seen this appears to be a high-upside pick for the Broncos this late in the draft.
I want to take a more in-depth look at Nelson with you, give you some of his story, and what he brings to the Denver Broncos.
Wt: 231 pounds
Bench: 23 reps
- Versatility — can play WLB, drop into coverage, blitz
- Flies to the football
- High character, team captain
- Special teams upside
- Striker — attacks the ball-carrier with aggressiveness
- Good wrap-up tackler
- Love his upside
Areas of Weakness
- Playing weight is more safety size (225-230 lbs)
- Pectoral injury caused draft drop
- Up-and-down junior season (inconsistencies)
- Can he shed blocks? (concern for most college LBs)
- How does he fit with current group?
- Needs to set himself apart
How Nelson Can Fit With the Denver Broncos
Rarely do the Broncos pick a player that I have done no pre-draft research on. Last year they picked Kayvon Webster in the third round, and he turned out to be a pretty darn good player up until his hand injury. This year, it was Nelson, who had a really up-and-down junior season and was on the fringe of being on that NFL radar.
Upon further review, it’s clear to see the potential the Broncos saw in Nelson, specifically from some things I witnessed in his sophomore games as well as a game against Notre Dame this past year.
Nelson has the ability to cover tight ends and backs with his physicality and speed, not unlike Danny Trevathan who was a sixth round pick out of Kentucky and emerged as one of the best WLBs in the NFL this past season.
I am not saying Nelson is going to step in and steal anyone’s starting job, but because of his speed and striking ability, he has the potential to be a top level special teams player right away and develop into a starting linebacker in the future, or at least a key reserve.
It wouldn’t have surprised me or anyone else if Nelson had gone undrafted, but there were some who felt like he had a shot to be picked in the late rounds because of the speed and plus athleticism he displayed at the Oklahoma pro day. I think it’s also pretty shocking how he came back from that torn pectoral injury and was able to throw up more than 2o reps on the bench press. Even fully healthy, for a guy that is 230 pounds that is an impressive number.
The strength, speed, instincts, leadership qualities, and strong coverage potential are all likely traits the Broncos felt pretty good about in adding this kid. When I watched him against Notre Dame, you can see that Oklahoma in their 3-3-5 alignment (which Denver will utilize) will move Nelson around the formation, sending him up to the LOS, sending him on blitzes, dropping him into coverage, and letting him make the calls.
I can’t say the only reason he fell to the 7th round was because of injury, but the depth of this draft and the fact that he has a medical background were enough reason to push him nearly off the draft board entirely. The Broncos saw otherwise. They were excited to get him and he said it pretty well in the Twitter announcement of the pick:
Interesting side note about Nelson, many of you will recall San Diego State running back Adam Muema, who left the 2014 Scouting Combine and claimed he would be signed as a UDFA by the Seattle Seahawks. Well, he wound up staying at an airport in Florida for three days and the guy he called when he was ready to go home was Corey Nelson. He and Nelson became friends while working out, getting ready for the draft in Florida.
The Broncos have the roster availability for a few new linebackers, and obviously this draft reflects that with the addition of Lamin Barrow from LSU. I think Nelson looked like a guy in games that was more aggressive in pursuit of the football, and a guy who has more capability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage but again there’s not a ton of game footage available out there for either of these guys.
The Broncos had to have loved what they saw out of Nelson in 2011 when he had a monster sophomore season and then this past year as a senior before injury. He displayed a trajectory of improvement that will allow him to compete for a roster/practice squad spot in training camp and the pre-season, and don’t be shocked if he is making plays in that third phase before too long.