Since his freshman season, Southern Miss tight end Shawn Nelson had NFL potential written all over him.
He had the height and size at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds to go with the speed and hands. His coming out party was in the 2005 New Orleans Bowl, when he had six catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
When coach Jeff Bower resigned under pressure after Nelson’s junior season, he was ready to make the leap to the pros.
New coach Larry Fedora persuaded Nelson to hang around, and it appears to have paid off for the Gonzales, La., native. Thanks to an attention-grabbing performance at the Senior Bowl and a 4.56-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, Nelson is picked by some draft analysts to be the second tight end taken today.
“He showed at the Senior Bowl that he can compete with the nation’s top prospects and has the potential to develop into an effective blocker,” ESPN’s Todd McShay wrote about Nelson. “More importantly, he has the size, speed and body control to make an immediate impact as a situational receiver.”
Fedora has a special perspective on this year’s tight end candidates, considering he also coached the tight end widely considered the best of the draft in Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew.
Fedora on Pettigrew: “Brandon is a bigger, thicker guy at 6-foot-6 250 pounds. He’s a tight end that’s very physical on the end. Blocking is a huge deal for him. He likes to be dominant. We did split him out quite a bit because he can catch the ball and he runs very well.”
Fedora on Nelson: “Shawn is a guy that came a long way in blocking this year. He’s a guy that can split out and can really run. He’s got great speed, great athletic ability. He can make a tough catch and can make a catch in a crowd.”
Fedora said he believes Nelson has what it takes in every phase of the pro game.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Fedora said. “He’s got the physical talent to do it and he’s got the mentality to do it because he wants it. He wants to be successful and he knows you don’t get these opportunities all the time. I think he’s ready to take advantage of it.”
Nelson made visits to the Patriots, Saints and Titans. There’s talk that other teams that could be in the mix include Buffalo and the New York Giants.
Now that draft day is here, Nelson will find out his fate.
“I’m just pretty well laid back about the situation,” Nelson said. “It’s out of my hands. I just have to sit back and wait.”
Patrick Magee/The Hattiesburg American (MCT)