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Mel Kiper, 3.0: Quenton Nelson to Bears at No. 8 a no-brainer — if he’s there

Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson (56, blocking Stanford defensive end Jovan Swann) is rated one of the top three prospects in the 2018 draft, regardless of position. (Tony Avelar/AP)

Excitement over plug-and-play, sure-fire Pro Bowl guards in the NFL draft often withers as the draft approaches — one reason why only three guards have gone in the top 10 since 1988 — but the hype for Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson seems to be strengthening at this point.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper is among several experts who project Nelson going to the Bears with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft (April 26 in Arlington, Texas) — and that’s only if he’s still there. Nelson is considered one of the best NFL guard prospects in years — rating with future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson (2001) and three-time Pro Bowler David DeCastro (2012). But even Hutchinson ended up going 17th to the Seahawks and DeCastro fell to 24th to the Steelers.

“That’s not happening with Nelson,” Kiper said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

“If you get Nelson at eight, [you] would be satisfied. Some people think he’s the best player in the draft.”

Kiper said he has Nelson rated the No. 3 player in the draft regardless of position _ behind Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb. He said ESPN colleague Todd McShay has Nelson rated No. 2 overall.

“If you’re picking eighth and you get one of the [three best] players in the draft, you’re ecstatic,” Kiper said. “Plus he fills a need. Plus he maybe can play tackle. And he’s helping your quarterback, [Mitchell] Trubisky — that inside pressure is the toughest thing on any quarterback. I don’t know how you pass on Nelson if he’s there.”

The Bears have indicated they are willing to trade up or down in the draft or could stay put at No. 8. Other options at No. 8 include Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith or Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, Kiper said. But Nelson not only would likely be the best player available, but also fill arguably the Bears’ biggest need after releasing starting left guard Josh Sitton.

The only guards selected in the top 10 since 1988 are North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper (seventh to Arizona) and Alabama’s Chance Warmack (10th to Tennessee) in 2013 and Colorado’s Chris Naeole (20th to New Orleans) in 1997.

Here are Kiper’s first round picks in his third mock draft released Wednesday:

  1. Browns — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
  2. Giants — Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California
  3. Jets — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
  4. Browns — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
  5. Broncos — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
  6. Colts — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
  7. Buccaneers — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
  8. Bears — Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
  9. 49ers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
  10. Raiders — Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
  11. Dolphins — Derwin James, S, Florida State
  12. Bills — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
  13. Redskins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington
  14. Packers — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio
  15. Cardinals — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
  16. Ravens — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
  17. Chargers — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
  18. Seahawks — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
  19. Cowboys — Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama
  20. Lions — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
  21. Bengals — Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
  22. Bills — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
  23. Rams — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
  24. Panthers — Justin Reid, S, Stanford
  25. Titans — Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
  26. Falcons — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
  27. Saints — Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
  28. Steelers — Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia
  29. Jaguars — D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
  30. Vikings — James Daniels, C/G, Iowa
  31. Patriots — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
  32. Eagles — Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State