Former Hawkeye Anthony Nelson knew it was time for the NFL

Andy Vasquez
The Record (N.J.)

INDIANAPOLIS — There wasn’t a single moment when Iowa defensive lineman Anthony Nelson knew that it was time to leave for the NFL. 

After the Hawkeyes’ season ended at the Outback Bowl, he sat down with his family. He didn’t think about his past accomplishments. Instead, he talked about what he wanted to do next. And after a few days, only one thing felt right. 

“I loved my time at Iowa,” Nelson said on Saturday at the NFL Combine. “I hope I did enough to make Hawkeye fans proud and win some games for the black and gold. For me, it was just competing. I wanted to be the best and this is a step that I took because I want to play against the best. I want that opportunity.” 

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Nelson, took the first big step in that direction this weekend at the NFL Combine. The 6-foot-7, 21-year old estimates he’s sat down with 15-20 teams since arriving at the Combine, with a few more interviews scheduled for Saturday night. Sunday he’ll work out with the other defensive linemen. Since January's senior bowl, Nelson says he's met with every team in the league.

Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson chases down Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant in the Hawkeyes' 14-7 win last Saturday.

His goal isn’t to improve on his draft projection: the Iowa native, who went to Waukee High School, is expected to go on day two of April’s NFL Draft. 

Nelson just wants to show teams that his college skills are applicable to the next level. 

“Just prove what kind of athlete that I am,” Nelson said of his expectations. “Show my athleticism, show my versatility. Show the things that they see on tape that they like, just reassure them that’s what they’re going to get when they draft me and show that I can be an effective player on Sunday.”

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Nelson showed just what he’s capable of at Iowa last season, where he had 9.5 sacks — good enough for second-most in the Big 10 (17th nationally) — and 45 total tackles.

He expects to have an impact on the next level, whether it’s in his more traditional role as an outside pass rusher in a 4-3, or even as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4. 

“As a rookie, for most of the guys here, it’s going to be an adjustment,” Nelson said. “I feel like I can come in and make an impact right away, but I definitely am going to get better as my career goes on. If I’ve got to stand up, I feel comfortable doing that and I’ll just do whatever they ask.” 

Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson warms up during the Hawkeyes' spring game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

And no matter what happens this week and in the draft, Nelson, who has been working out in Iowa City, is just grateful for an opportunity he knows will make him a better player. 

“[I’ll] just keep doing what I’m doing,” Nelson said. “Just improving every day and taking advantage of every opportunity that I have. [On Sunday at the Combine] I’m going to be running around with NFL coaches, right, and me doing drill work with NFL coaches and getting to interact with them, pick their brains in interviews, they’re asking me questions and whatever. 

“But in the end, I get a chance to ask them what things they do, what technique things that are really different in college and NFL. I’m just excited to show what I have and get back to work.”