Charles Nelson is very clearly a speedster. What his speed hides is the physicality that really makes Nelson exceptional. He burst onto the scene with a couple punt returns before developing into a solid receiver culminating in seven receptions for 104 yards against Arizona in the PAC-12 Championship Game. As much of a weapon he is on offense, I truly believe he should play defense full-time.
There are simply too many weapons on the Oregon offense already. For running backs there's Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner, and new running back Tony Brooks-James is being called the next LaMichael James and is already receiving rave reviews from defensive coordinator Don Pellum.
At receiver Bralon Addison is back, Byron Marshall was great last year and took some reps at running back, Devon Allen is back, Darren Carrington returns after a strong last few games, Dwayne Stanford is one big dude was a top-four receiver, and freshman Alex Ofodile and Jalen Brown are already receiving praise from Lubick as possible four year starters. Phil Steele is ranking Oregon's receivers as the best receiver group in the country.
When weighing whether Nelson should play offense or defense it might be best to view him as a marginal benefit. The receiver position is thick and there aren't that many passes to go around with a group that deep. With Nelson as a receiver he makes the group a little better. At running back Nelson makes them a little better. Nelson doesn't play tight end so that's not an option.
If Nelson is moved to defensive back then he can make a big difference. Troy Hill, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, and Erik Dargan are gone making the Oregon secondary a huge question mark. There are a few very talented players filling in but in some ways Charles Nelson is a known quantity with a very high ceiling who can step in right away and kill it.
On special teams coverage, whether punt or kickoff, Nelson was always in on the tackle. He flew by blockers. He pushed guys blocking him to the side as quick as a linebacker against a receiver. He has the hips and quickness to keep up with the fastest receivers. We already saw him play defensive back in the spring game and he was fantastic. Nelson is so physical and fast that he would be great in bump and run coverage, passing off receivers in zones, and blowing plays up on the outside.
Moving an extremely player to defense is a very new thing for Duck fans. In the past the best players were always put on offense. In this case, with the depth involved, the move to defense makes the most sense. While PAC-12 teams have a preference for offense, SEC teams will put their best players on defense.
I really view the unthinkable (at least for Oregon) depth as a result of the great recruiting the Oregon coaching staff is doing as a real opportunity to put great players on defense. If every position on defense got a little better and the backups got a little better that would make a huge difference. It might be worth one to two scores a game, which over a season makes a huge difference and in most Oregon losses the differential is only one to two scores.
Nelson may be a spectacular athlete who was a great threat on offense and brought a certain skillset. However, there are many players who might have more experience and different skills that can fill in fine without missing a beat. The benefit of Nelson playing defense, a position that he shows a natural skill for and is athletic enough to play, is too great for him not to.