Miami Hurricanes LT Zion Nelson projected 2022 NFL Draft top 5 by ESPN

ORLANDO, FL - AUGUST 24: (L-R) Florida.(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - AUGUST 24: (L-R) Florida.(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Todd McShay of ESPN projects Miami Hurricanes left tackle Zion Nelson to be taken with the fifth pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Nelson has come a long way from a three-star undersized, 6’5, 240-pound signee in 2019. Nelson has been a starter for Miami since his first game against Florida in the 2019 opener.

Nelson is currently listed a 6’5, 316 pounds on the official Miami Hurricanes website. On the Consensus Mock Draft Databoard Nelson is listed 13th. Nelson is currently projected as the second-ranked offensive lineman in the 2022 NFL Draft behind Evan Neal of Alabama. Miami and Alabama play on September 4 in Atlanta.

Nelson could compete against Alabama defensive linemen Josh Ogoigbe who is the 62nd ranked player on the Consensus Big Board, D.J. Dale who is 73rd and Phidarian Mathis who is 83rd. Alabama will likely be the best DL Miami has played since they lost to Clemson in the 2017 ACC Championship game.

The Miami OL improved as a team in 2020 but needed to continue to develop in 2021. Miami finished 116th allowing 2.73 sacks per game. Nelson was the anchor of the Hurricanes defensive line in 2020. Via David Lake of Inside the U, Pro Football Focus Nelson graded Nelson with a 79.5 pass-blocking rating in the final six games of 2020.

"“Cincinnati at five I have taking Zion Nelson, the offensive tackle from Miami. He’s a 6-foot-5, 316-pounder. Didn’t give up a sack the entire last season, really improved from his sophomore to his junior year and I expect him to continue to improve in that area.I think this year, we’re going to see more offensive and defensive linemen earlier in the draft.”"

Nelson allowed only five pressures and two sacks over the last half dozen contests. In that time span, Nelson was the third-best LT in the ACC and 12 best in Power Five. With fewer high-ranking skill positions players projected in the 2022 NFL Draft, McShay believes Nelson projects to be selected high.

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Nelson has matured with what will be an experience Miami OL in 2020. All five of the Hurricanes starters return in 2021 entering their third season on the first team. With the experience Miami has upfront, Nelson and his teammate should do a better job of protecting D’Eriq King and opening holes in the running game.