I will always bleed black and gold! Thank you Hawkeye nation for all of your love and support! pic.twitter.com/evFHyl9R7e— Anthony Nelson (@ANelly98) January 7, 2019
Three early entrants is already a program record for Iowa (breaking the previous record of two, set last year by James Daniels and Josh Jackson) and redshirt sophomore tight end T.J. Hockenson could make it four early entrants if he decides to try his luck in the NFL as well. He has yet to announce his decision for next year.
The hulking Nelson, who measures 6'7", 271 lbs, carved out a role on Iowa's defensive line as a redshirt freshman in 2016 and steadily improved over the next three seasons. As a redshirt junior Nelson was a very good run defender and did a strong job of sealing the edge. Of course, he was also a tremendous pass rusher, too -- his 9.5 sacks this year were good for second on the team (behind A.J. Epenesa with 10.5) and his 23 sacks easily led Iowa as a team over the last three seasons. Overall, Nelson finished with 119 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 23 sacks, 16 QB hurries, six passes broken up, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, and a blocked kick. That's a pretty solid career -- especially in just three years of work.
Nelson's early departure means that Iowa will have a brand-new starting four on the defensive line. Three starters from 2018 -- defensive end Parker Hesse and defensive tackles Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks -- have used up their eligibility, and Nelson's early exit will make it a completely fresh set of starters for Iowa on the defensive line. His departure also means that defensive end goes from a position of tremendous strength for Iowa in 2019 to a position of merely very good strength. Instead of having Nelson, Epenesa, and Chauncey Golston at DE, Iowa will only have Epenesa and Golston as returning players at that position. That's still a good position to be in, given Epenesa's extraordinary talent and the high upside that Golston has flashed (particularly in the Outback Bowl), but Nelson-Epenesa-Golston would have been a terrifying trio at defensive end for Iowa. So it goes.
Like Hooker, Nelson hasn't been a common name among the first few rounds in mock drafts or in discussion from draft experts and NFL talent evaluators. This is also projected to be a very deep year for defensive linemen in the NFL Draft. That doesn't make Nelson's decision a bad one, though. He may have decided that he had maxed out his potential development at Iowa and wanted to move to the next level. Or he may have just wanted to get the clock rolling on his NFL career so he could get closer to a more lucrative second contract. You'll rarely see an NFL team that doesn't think they could use another defensive lineman, so opportunities are likely to be there. Best of luck to Anthony Nelson at the next level; it's been a pleasure to watch him terrorize opposing quarterbacks for the last three years.