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Draft analysis: Could Bears pass on ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ Irish G Quenton Nelson?

Part 9 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.

So many superlatives have been used to describe Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson in the lead-up to next week’s draft that the following no longer seems extraordinary.

But it is.

“I would love to see the [Bears] get a guy like Quenton Nelson, who’s a perennial Pro Bowler,” former Bears center Olin Kreutz said Wednesday. “If not a Hall of Famer.”

Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson warms up. (AP)

Kreutz played for Harry Hiestand, who returned to the Bears this year after coaching the team’s offensive line from 2005-09. Kreutz knows what Hiestand demands from his players — and what he produces.

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Hiestand coached both Nelson — who draftniks have compared to Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Steve Hutichinson — and perhaps the draft’s best tackle, Mike McGlinchey, at Notre Dame.

It doesn’t take a genius to see what both players can do on tape. But Hiestand offers what no other player in the draft can: a glimpse into what makes them tick.

“That’s a benefit that you have when you have college coaches that have been with these guys for their careers,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And that’s the one thing that happens for you as a coach as you go through this — and it helps out the scouring department, the personnel department — is that you can see them on tape and understand what type of players they are. But then, also on top of it, and this can help separate one guy from another is, ‘who is the person?’ and ‘what kind of person are they?’ ”

Two more worthy questions: Will Nelson be available for the Bears at No. 8? And which guards, or centers, would be available in the second round?

The Bears enter the draft having yet to fill two starting vacancies: outside linebacker and, depending on if they move center Cody Whitehair, either center or guard.

When general manager Ryan Pace decided not to pick up four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton’s $8 million contract in February, he created a vacancy. Veterans Earl Watford, who started 20 games for the Cardinals the last two years, and Eric Kush, who missed all of last season with a torn hamstring, would be the team’s two best options if the season started today.

A thin class at edge rusher, though, means the Bears probably won’t be able to find a worthy second-round outside linebacker if they draft Nelson to serve as quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s bodyguard for the next decade.

But would that be enough to pass on the draft’s surest of things?

“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kinda offensive lineman,” Kreutz said. “He’s that good . . . He’s physical, he’s nasty.

“But I think as we all know, the Bears need a difference-maker at any position they can get him at. So I think they’ll take the highest guy on their board. If Quenton Nelson falls to them, I think they’ll have a hard time passing him up.”

Contributing: Madeline Kenney

OFFENSIVE LINE

 Grading the Bears’ need:

High. The Bears could look to the first two rounds to find a sure-fire replacement for four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. Later in the draft, they could seek a developmental tackle, given that Bobby Massie is entering the final year of his deal.

On the roster: C/G Cody Whitehair ($1.06 million average annual value), G Kyle Long
($10 million), RT Bobby Massie ($6 million), LT Charles Leno ($9.25 million), OT Bradley Sowell ($1.5 million),
C Hroniss Grasu ($814,730), C/G Eric Kush ($1.35 million),
G Earl Watford ($1.25 million),
G Jordan Morgan ($674,010),
C Travis Averill ($550,000),
G Will Pericak ($480,000),
OT Brandon Greene ($510,000), OT Cameron Lee ($510,000),
G Rashaad Coward ($510,000).

Top five draft prospects:

G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame: Considered a generational talent.

T Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame: He is better on the right side, but is that worth a top-15 pick?

G Will Hernandez, UTEP: Not important yet awesome: he wears an old-school neck roll.

G Isaiah Wynn, Georgia: Missed drills at NFL Scouting Combine and Georgia pro day while recovering from a left shoulder injury.

T Kolton Miller, UCLA: Part of a cluster that includes Texas’ Connor Williams and Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown.

I’m intrigued by: What the Bears think of Billy Price’s medical report. Considered a first-round talent, the Ohio State center had surgery after tearing his pectoral muscle during a bench press at the scouting combine. He is expected to return by the start of training camp.