Zion Nelson CFB 10th best returning OT per Pro Football Focus

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 23: (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 23: (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

The decision by Zion Nelson to return for his fourth season is a huge boost to the Miami offensive line. Nelson was named the 10th best-returning offensive tackle by Pro Football Focus earlier this month. Nelson was considered a prospect if he chose to enter the 2022 NFL Draft. Nelson has improved immensely since signing in 2019.

Zion Nelson returning ensures Miami will have one of the best left tackles in college football to protect the blind side of star quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. Miami will have three multi-year starters returning on the OL including Nelson. Center Jakai Clark and versatile OL D.J. Scaife also return for Miami.

According to David Lake of Inside the U, Nelson improved throughout the season. In the first five games of the 2021 season, Nelson allowed three sacks and 11 pressures. In the final seven games of 2021, Nelson did not allow a sack and gave up only four QB pressures. Nelson was the best Power Five OT in the last half of 2021.

Per Lake Nelson earned a pass-blocking grade of 90.8 from PFF from weeks seven through 13 last season. Nelson needs to improve as a run blocker. PFF graded Nelson at 64.1 in run blocking in 2021. The addition of head coach Mario Cristobal and OL coach Alex Mirabal is expected to improve the Miami OL in 2022.

"10. ZION NELSON, MIAMI HURRICANESNelson’s return to The U is fantastic news for quarterback Tyler Van Dyke because the 6-foot-5, 316-pound tackle has developed into one of the best pass-protectors in the country. From Week 4 on in 2021,Nelson allowed just six pressures in nine games en route to a 91.6 pass-block grade that led all Power Five tackles."

PFF credited Nelson with only three sacks allowed in 2021 and an 85.9 pass-blocking grade for the entire season. Nelson and the Miami OL need to improve in 2022 allowing negative plays. Miami finished 104th nationally in 2021 allowing 6.75 tackles per loss per game. The Hurricanes were 88th allowing 2.5 sacks per game.

Tyler Van Dyke named 2022 top five returning QB. dark. Next

The return by Nelson ensures Miami will have a mostly veteran OL in 2022. In addition to Clark, Nelson and Scaife, Miami also returns Jalen Rivers who missed most of 2021 but started seven games as a true freshman in 2020. Nelson was a three-star signee and the 114th ranked OT in 2019.