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CBS Sports Ranks Zion Nelson 4th in Top 20 College Football Players To Watch In 2021

Nelson enters 2021 as one of the top left tackles in college football

247 Sports

Over the last two seasons, one of the coolest things that Miami Hurricanes fans have been able to see, has been the rise of left tackle Zion Nelson.

Arriving in Coral Gables as a freshman in 2019 at a mere 240 pounds, Nelson worked his way through a rough first year where he was thrown into the starting lineup week-one. In 2019, Nelson surrendered 12 sacks and 38 pressures.

Then in 2020, Nelson became one of the top tackles in the ACC, and enters his junior year as a projected first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Nelson has received lots of praise following his 2020 season, and recently, CBS Sports released a list of the top 20 players to watch in college football in 2021. Nelson made the countdown at number four.

While he’s still trying to become a consistent force at left tackle, Nelson showed towards the end of the 2020 season why he’s such a valuable piece of the Hurricanes offense. In the final 6 games last year, Nelson received a 79.7 pass-blocking grade from PFF, allowing 5 QB pressures and giving up just 2 sacks. That pass-blocking grade was 12th best among Power 5 left tackles during those 6 weeks.

In 2021, Nelson will again be responsible for protecting quarterback D’Eriq King, and he’ll also try and improve on his run-blocking skills. While he emerged as a solid pass-protector, his run-blocking grade was a 63.8.

Hurricanes fans are expecting Nelson to take another big leap this upcoming season, and so is Todd McShay. The NFL Draft expert has Nelson going #5 overall in the 2022 Draft, and believes he’s going to continue to improve.

The last offensive lineman from Miami to be selected in the first round was Ereck Flowers in 2015. Before him, it was guard Vernon Carey in 2004. To find the last offensive tackle from Miami to be selected in the first round, before Flowers, you have to go back to Bryant McKinnie in 2002.

If Nelson continues to develop and improve in 2021, there’s a good chance he ends that first round drought.