Colorado Mesa players could be dark horse NFL candidates

NFL Draft logo (Courtesy: Flickr/Zennie62)

While much of the focus at Colorado’s Pro Day was on projected first round pick Isaiah Oliver and hometown hero Phillip Lindsay, two players from Division II Colorado Mesa University also made their mark at the annual showcase.

One of the small school’s standouts was 2017 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year and defensive end sensation Blake Nelson. In his senior year at Mesa, Nelson recorded 81 tackles, including seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss.

He also had a team-high 107 tackles, while earning all first team RMAC honors in 2016. Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing 230 pounds, his impressive stature makes him an intriguing prospect.

While he might be too small to play defensive end at the next level, several scouts and former players alike feel his frame could make him fit to play the seemingly extinct fullback position.

His ability to use his body to overpower defenders and set blocks up the middle could be extremely useful. If put in the right offensive scheme, he could also serve as a patch casser out of the backfield and bell cow in short yardage situations to bulldoze over defenders.

At CU’s Pro Day, he showed off his impressive durability and athleticism during the three cone drill and broad jump. He also was seen catching passes from former Buffs’ signal caller Sefo Liufau, showing his position flexibility.

While it’s no secret that it’s a devalued position, several fullbacks in the NFL last season more than proved their worth doing the much needed dirty work.

In Jacksonville, Tommy Bohanon was a big part of the Jaguars’ efforts in reaching the AFC Championship Game where he paved the way for Leonard Fournette and caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in the divisional round against Pittsburgh.

In San Francisco, Pro-Bowler Kyle Juszczyk played a big role in Mike Shanahan’s innovative, up-tempo offense. While undervalued (and not even carried on most rosters in the NFL), it’s no secret that fullbacks can play a integral role in a team’s success on offense.

In addition to being a good fit at fullback, the Centennial native also has the chance to be a impact player on special teams where he recorded a nation-high four blocked kicks in 2017.

Judging by the number of tackles he had during his time in Grand Junction, and the large impact he had blocking kicks, Nelson could be the prototypical special teams ace if given the chance.

He is one of those players that seemingly has a nose for the football, always making plays in the middle of the action. In punt coverage, he has a knack for getting down the field quickly and reading the ball’s trajectory exceptionally well.

He is also a great form tackler, as he always wraps up ball carriers down low while completing the tackling motion. These desirable traits would allow coaches to groom him into an ace used to play the field position game on special teams.

As a small-school product, Nelson will almost surely go undrafted, but could wind up being impact player if put in the right situation.

Nelson was joined at CU’s Pro Day by his teammate, offensive tackle Austin Fleer. Fleer earned First Team RMAC honors in both 2016 and 2017. The Grandview High School graduate drew attention from teams at the next level for his behemoth sized 6-foot-8, 300-pound build.

Due to his mammoth-sized stature, he has drawn comparison to former Buff and recently signed New York Giant Nate Solder. Fleer’s major drawback is that he didn’t face the top level of competition in college. At a position where you’re constantly pitted up against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL, this could be a major concern.

Also, as with many offensive lineman, and tackles in particular, coming out of college he is raw in his footwork and technique. Because of this, offensive tackle is a position with a steep learning curve, low predictability and a notoriously high turnover rate.

On the flip side, we’ve seen more developmental, late round/undrafted and FCS players succeed at the position at the next level than many others. Most notably, nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters has had an outstanding career as a blind side protector after going undrafted in 2004.

It’s traditionally been a position where underlooked guys can find success. Fleer has the opportunity to do just that. There is some work to do, but if he can refine his form he has the potential to create a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses in the trenches.

While both Nelson and Fleer are certainly longshots to squeeze their way onto their NFL roster, it’ll be interesting to see how they fare once training camp kicks off.

Oliver and Lindsay attracted much of the attention at Pro Day, but keep an eye on the likes of Nelson and Fleer in the coming months to wind up on a team’s preseason roster, fighting for a chance to play in the NFL.

Contact Sports staff writer Jack Stern at jast4316@colorado.edu.

Jack Stern

Jack Stern is a staff sports writer for the CU Independent. He is a know-it-all sports fan who soaks up anything sports related. His favorite sports are football, baseball, and basketball, but is always excited to learn about, and cover other sports. For story ideas, he can be contacted at jack.stern@colorado.edu or by phone at 718-938-5846.

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