With neither free agent Brandon Carr nor first-round draft pick Morris Claiborne living up to the hype that each arrived with in 2012, the Dallas Cowboys are faced with more questions than answers at cornerback. If the team is to improve on its performance in 2015, the Dallas front office is going to have to acquire some talent for defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson to work with. I am not anticipating a corner being available when the Cowboys pick in the first round, so they will have to look for help later in the process. One option that the team might be looking at is Oregon State corner Steven Nelson, who will likely be on the board when Dallas goes on the clock in the second round.
Nelson was a two year started for the Beavers, arriving there after being one of the most highly coveted junior college prospects at the College of the Sequoias in northern California. Both seasons at Oregon State saw him earn All Pac-12 honors; honorable mention as a junior and second-team as a senior. During his final season with the Beavers, Steven was sixth on the team with 60 tackles plus he added eight passes broken up and two interceptions even though opponents had learned not to look in his direction very often. That type of respect was earned when Nelson picked off four passes in his first four games during his junior year.
Nelson is not the type of corner who is going to impress scouts at the Underwear Olympics; he is of average build and speed. Where he impresses is the ability to put himself in position to make plays. This helped him stand out at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. According to Rob Rang, Nelson stood out in coverage and displayed a consistent ability to undercut receivers and break up pass plays. He displayed quick feet and fluid movement throughout his time in Mobile. Nelson also possesses a second gear that allows him to quickly close on the play.
Nelson impressed me with the limited tape I have seen, so I decided to reach out to someone whose opinion I trust, our own Birddog26.
Nelson is a very underrated prospect. Very aggressive corner. Can come up and play press but loves to sit back and play off man and hit them inside 5 yards. Works great with guys in front him but can hang in man on man. I see him as a young Scandrick. He is tailor made for Rod's defense. Not sure I would say a day 1 starter so no 1st round grade. I would say plug at dime behind Patmon but could be nickle in first year. My 4th maybe 5th CB in rankings.
Even though the Cowboys have to make a decision on Claiborne's option year soon, it is a safe bet that they are going to give him every opportunity to earn his keep in 2014. This will allow Nelson a year to get into the Marinelli defense and get his feet wet without the added pressure of being an every down corner for the Cowboys. He would still be a key contributor on the Dallas defense.
It is not just in pass coverage where Nelson stands out. He is strong in run support as well. He is a solid and aggressive tackler, not the type that will be making any "business decisions" when taking on a blocker or ball carrier.
Nelson plays the run well also, aggressively fighting through blockers and taking on bigger ball-carriers with no hesitation. He breaks down patiently and makes ballcarriers commit before closing efficiently to make the physical wrap-up tackle.
Like every player, Nelson does have his weaknesses. One is that he tends to be a little too overly aggressive at times. He can be a bit "grabby" in coverage, and was flagged for that during the Senior Bowl game. Still it is easier to coach a player to be less aggressive than it is to instill some fight into a more passive individual. Given a season or two to fully develop into a professional, Steven Nelson looks to be an impact making player.
Draft Breakdown does not have any film of Nelson up at this time, but you can watch some Youtube footage of him here.