Mock Draft 1.0: Why the Bears will take Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson in Round 1

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Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson (AP)

In the last six weeks, the Bears have made two moves that point to them considering Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson with the eighth pick in the draft.

In January, coach Matt Nagy hired Nelson’s college coach, offensive line guru Harry Hiestand, for the same role on his staff. Last week, general manager Ryan Pace decided he wouldn’t pick up the $8 million option on four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton’s contract, making him a free agent and creating a gaping hole on the line.

It’s too simplistic to think Nelson was the driving force behind either decision, but those connections shouldn’t be dismissed. Neither should the reviews of Nelson, who might be a Hall of Fame-level talent. Last week, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. compared him to Steve Hutchinson, who was one of the 15 finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. Kiper said he doesn’t think Nelson still will be on the board when the Bears draft eighth.

‘‘You just watch him — he just destroys people at the collegiate level,’’ Kiper said. ‘‘Steve Hutchinson . . . is a good comp. He had a great career in the NFL. I went back and looked at their size, their strength, their physical attributes, athletic numbers, and they were very comparable.’’

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For the 6-5, 328-pound Nelson to be worth the eighth overall pick, though, he would have to live up to that lofty projection. While teams are always looking for a tackle, history shows most GMs wouldn’t consider drafting a guard so high.

Since the Jets drafted Dave Cadigan eighth overall 30 years ago, only two players selected in the top eight have gone on to spend their careers exclusively at guard. A whopping 34 top-eight players have appeared at tackle.

The Redskins took Iowa’s Brandon Scherff fifth overall in 2015, thinking he could fit at guard or tackle. He played tackle in minicamp but moved to guard that August. He has starred there for three seasons, reaching the Pro Bowl the last two.

The only other top-eight guard in that time didn’t work out so well. The Cardinals selected Jonathan Cooper seventh in 2013 but traded him three years later, along with a second-round pick, to the Patriots for outside linebacker Chandler Jones. The Patriots and Browns cut Cooper in 2016. He found a home with the Cowboys last season, starting 13 games, but he is no one’s idea of a draft success.

Pace has an affinity for athleticism, as evidenced by his selections of Mitch Trubisky, Leonard Floyd and Kevin White in the first round. But he also has shown an appetite for beef, drafting offensive linemen Cody Whitehair and Hroniss Grasu and defensive linemen Eddie Goldman and Jonathan Bullard on the second day of the draft.

The Bears have two months before they have to decide whether Nelson will join the list.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.


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