Reggie Nelson, FS, Florida Gators
As usual, most of the draft talk in 2007 is surrounding the top two quarterbacks, but the highlight of this draft class could be the defensive backs.
There are a few that should be instant contributors and even more that could be quality starters in time. Free safety Reggie Nelson is at the top of college football coming off a National Championship with the University of Florida and is at the top of the defensive back class.
Nelson truly is living his childhood dream. Coming from Melbourne, Fla., Nelson was a two-time all-state high school player but went on to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. He was outstanding in Coffeyville and impressed when he transferred to Florida.
At Florida, he had a solid first season in 2005 but was able to really step it up last season. He showed off good hands with six interceptions on the year and was one of the leading players on an impressive defense that allowed only 269 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. In addition to the championship ring, he won the Jack Tatum award, which is given to the top defensive back in college football.
Nelson's six interceptions show that he does have good hands. In addition to that, he's the type of player who can make things happen when he does get his hands on the ball. His 70-yard interception return for a touchdown should be one of the clips shown for his highlight reel when he does get drafted. He wasn't the top choice for the role, but he also saw some time as a punt returner, showing his speed and versatility.
Nelson's versatility could be a key factor in determining his draft position. There aren't too many teams with early picks who need a free safety, but Nelson has said that he would be willing to switch to cornerback. Moving to cornerback would work fine for Nelson since his size and style of play is more similar to what coaches would want from a cornerback.
Whenever a team wins the National Championship like the Gators did, scouts look for the team leaders. Even though it was his second year with Florida, Nelson was part of the team's leadership committee and was definitely a locker room presence. He was a crucial part of the team last season, and Florida head coach Urban Meyer even stated that Nelson was the key to the defense.
Nelson is seen as a very talented athlete despite his disappointing performance at the NFL Combine. He looked much better at Florida's Pro Day, where, in addition to improvement on speed drills, he was described as "nearly flawless" in agility drills.
Nelson was a little disappointing at the NFL Combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds. While this isn't horrible, it's over a tenth of a second behind his main competition in the draft, free safety LaRon Landry of Louisiana State. However, at Florida's Pro Day, he was reported to have run the drill at a considerably faster pace, clocking in at 4.35 seconds instead of the 4.48 he ran at the Combine.
Nelson's size is a major disadvantage. He has added some weight since the start of the season but still only came in at 5-foot-11, 198 pounds. For comparison, Landry came in at 6-foot, 213 pounds.
Nelson was particularly proud of his ability to contain the run but will have trouble stopping some of the more physical backs at that size.
Nelson's lack of experience could be a factor, too. He's a transfer junior who has played only two years of college ball. While he had a fantastic year in 2006, his 2005 campaign wasn't anything too extraordinary.
Nelson is almost a guaranteed first-round pick. Landry seems to have the advantage as far as being selected higher, so it's realistic to expect Nelson to fall to the middle of the round, to the Pittsburgh Steelers or Jacksonville Jaguars, most likely the Jags. After losing safety Deon Grant and recent injuries to Donovin Darius, the safety position is one of concern for head coach Jack Del Rio's defense.
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