By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Since being the No. 1 recruit in the nation, there has been a lot of hype around Nkemdiche. He was a 3-year starter for Ole Miss while showing a tremendous athletic skill set.
As a true freshman, Nkemdiche totaled 34 tackles with two sacks and eight tackles for a loss. He recorded 35 tackles with two sacks in 2014. The junior totaled 29 tackles, seven for a loss and three sacks in 2015, plus he caught a 31-yard touchdown pass. Nkemdiche had big games against Alabama and Mississippi State, but also had a number of games where he did very little while going against offensive linemen he should have dominated. Nkemdiche seemed to start games well before getting worn down and disappearing. His conditioning looked sub-par. He also missed time with a concussion he suffered against Memphis.
On the positive side, Nkemdiche is a rare athlete with a phenomenal combination of size, strength and speed. He can bull rush straight through blockers, yet also has the speed and movement skills of a linebacker. Nkemdiche is a the definition of a freak athlete.
As a pass-rusher, Nkemdiche can get some penetration and pressure, but he rarely ever notched sacks. Nkemdiche doesn’t have pass-rushing moves and struggles to get to the quarterback. While he has been talked about like an elite defensive line prospect, look at his sack numbers compared to some other top interior defensive line prospects in recent years.
I’ve spoken with GMs who share my opinion that Nkemdiche is one of the most overrated players in this draft class. He would consistently break into the backfield for Ole Miss, but rarely ever finish a play. He could bull rush some college guards straight down the pocket or blow by an offensive lineman with his speed. However, Nkemdiche would rarely make the tackle. Part of the reason for that is Nkemdiche has poor awareness and vision. He also lacks pass-rushing moves. NFL sources say that while Nkemdiche has a great skill set, he just isn’t a natural pass-rusher, and that can be seen in his meager sack production.
Multiple teams have told me that they have off-the-field concerns with Nkemdiche. One team labelled him as having serious baggage with some bad influences. They believe that his older brother Denzel will be part of his entourage where ever he goes, and Denzel is a bad influence. Another team said that Robert Nkemdiche loves the limelight and wants to be a movie star. They’d like to see him have the desire to dominate on the field, but they say he doesn’t seem possessed to be the best football player he can be.
The off-the-field concerns were given more credence when he was arrested after the season for pot and jumped off a hotel balcony during the incident. That caused him to be suspended for his final collegiate game.
At the combine, Nkemdiche had a strong performance on the field, as expected, with a fast 40-yard dash, an athletic showing in the field work, and natural strength in the weight room. However, in the meeting rooms Nkemdiche left a bad impression on teams and did not ease their off-the-field concerns. In fact, he made them even worse. Some sources say their teams won’t draft Nkemdiche at any point.
For the NFL, Nkemdiche would be a nice fit as a 3-4 defensive end. In a 4-3 defense, he would be best as a defensive end on running downs who moves inside to tackle in passing situations. Sources say that Nkemdiche has a top-10 athletic skill set, but with his lack of production to go with the off-the-field concerns, he could slide in the 2016 NFL Draft. The general expectation is that some team will take a chance on Nkemdiche in the middle to late in the first round.
Player Comparison: Fletcher Cox. In the few games that Nkemdiche actually finished plays, he reminded me somewhat of Cox. Both have a unique combination of size, speed and athleticism. However, that wasn’t the norm in Nkemdiche’s collegiate career. Nkemdiche could be a better athlete than Cox, but Cox is definitely the better football player. Whatever team drafts Nkemdiche should not expect him to be as good as Cox is for the Eagles.
NFL Matches: Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Oakland, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, Denver, Seattle, San Diego, Dallas and Detroit
There are a plethora of teams that could consider a defensive line talent like Nkemdiche in the early rounds. Some team will look past the off-the-field issues to take a chance on the gifted athlete.
The Bears could use a difference-maker at the point of attack. Nkemdiche could be a good project for John Fox. New Orleans has to upgrade its defense, and Nkemdiche could make a quick impact for the Saints.
Oakland and Indianapolis need a disruptive defender at the point of attack. Cincinnati could use some interior defensive line talent to go with Geno Atkins, and the Bengals’ve taken a chance on some character-problem individuals.
The Bills seem like a great fit for Nkemdiche. General manager Doug Whaley has had an inclination toward size and speed freaks, while head coach Rex Ryan has had not qualms with taking players with character concerns. Kyle Williams is aging while Mario Williams was released, thus Buffalo could use more talent up front.
Arizona let Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams leave last offseason. Nkemdiche could be a nice partner to go with Calais Campbell. Denver might need to add some talent to its defensive line depending on what happens in free agency.
Nkemdiche could be an option for a lot of teams picking high on Day 2 as well. San Diego could use a defensive line difference-maker to go with Corey Liuget. Dallas and Detroit could both use interior defensive line help. Randy Gregory had a lot of character issues last year, and the Cowboys took him on Day 2. That could play out again with Nkemdiche.
2016 NFL Mock Draft: Charlie’s | Walt’s
2016 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings
2016 NFL Draft Scouting Reports
NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22
2024 NFL Mock Draft - Feb. 21
Fantasy Football Rankings - Feb. 19
NFL Picks - Feb. 12