Zion Nelson has been a bit inconsistent over his first two seasons at Miami, but the junior seems poised for a breakout year in 2021.
Though many expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to make a splashy addition at offensive tackle this offseason, nothing of the sort ever materialized. Instead, the team franchise tagged Cam Robinson and drafted Walker Little from Stanford in the second round with the 45th pick, a high-risk/reward player who hasn’t played since suffering a season-ending injury in the first week of the season in 2019.
With Robinson not likely to remain on the roster after the 2021 season (barring a huge year), the Jaguars could enter next offseason with tackle at the top of their list of needs regardless of how the season plays out. That would especially be the case of right tackle Jawaan Taylor struggled, too.
That’s why in this CBS Sports 2022 NFL mock draft, the Jags (who are projected to have another disappointing season next year, netting the fifth pick) target an offensive tackle in Miami’s Zion Nelson.
Zion Nelson is already a really good prospect, and I think the sky is the limit for him. His movement skills and physical profile are top of the line.
Nelson is expected to have a big junior year for Miami. A three-star recruit and just the No. 114 offensive tackle in the country coming out of high school in Sumter, South Carolina, Nelson’s only FBS offers before Miami got in the mix were Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Western Kentucky and Appalachian State (where he was originally committed). He came out of nowhere to win the Hurricanes’ starting left tackle job before his true freshman season in 2019.
He started every game for Miami that season, and as a true sophomore in 2020, he appeared in 10 games and started seven (including the final six). At 6-foot-5, 316 pounds, Nelson has fairly ideal size to play the position in the NFL. But he’s had to overcome his share of struggles, as well.
According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson allowed 12 sacks as a true freshman (the most in the country). But over the last six games of the 2020 season — after he had fought to earn his starting job back — he allowed just five pressures and two sacks. His play during that span earned him the 12th-highest pass-blocking grade from PFF among Power Five left tackles.
This mock draft has him as the first offensive lineman off the board, but he’ll need to continue to improve to solidify his case. He has a good number of believers, though, as ESPN’s Todd McShay also projected that Nelson would be the fifth pick in the 2022 draft.
His run-blocking still has a bit of a way to go, but much of that can be attributed to being undersized for a tackle in the past, especially as a freshman. Now up to 316 pounds, he should improve upon his below-average to average run-blocking grades from the last two seasons. If he can, someone will likely pull the trigger on him early in the first round of next year’s draft.