Few can dispute Robert Nkemdiche’s upside, but nobody can dispute the reasons why the Ole Miss star fell to the 29th overall pick, where the Arizona Cardinals took a flier on the 6-foot-3, 294-pound tackle.
Nkemdiche’s draft slide wasn’t due to his lack of production, which some viewed as a result of the lineman taking plays off.
A significant weight pulling down Nkemdiche’s sinking draft stock were related to off-the-field issues and his personality that doesn’t fit the mold of the stereotypical football player. SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey covered both and summed up the former here:
Nkemdiche’s psychological profile has been parsed as much as his stat line. Social media accounts littered with religious references, the headbands he wore under his helmet during games and even the books he reads add up to a personality that’s hard to square for those whose job is to “protect the shield.”
But it’s the list of run-ins with the law that made teams ahead of the Cardinals hesitant to pull the trigger.
– February 2014: A man sued Nkemdiche and his brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, for an alleged fight. Denzel Nkemdiche’s off-the-field issues have been one major reason why teams were skeptical of the linebacker’s younger, more talented brother, as Godfrey reported in his story for SB Nation.
– December 2015: Nkemdiche is charged with possession of marijuana after falling out of a hotel window in Atlanta. The defensive tackle would be suspended for Ole Miss’ bowl game and declared for the draft before his team closed out the season. He faced charges because rolled marijuana cigarettes were found in the room under his name but maintained he was “drunk” when he fell out of the window.
Denzel Nkemdiche had his own troubles with the law, and according to Godfrey, NFL decision-makers have found it hard to separate the brothers when it comes to their troubles.
But for the Cardinals, all this can be understood, talent aside.
Arizona drafted offensive lineman D.J. Humphries in the late first round last season — he too was a physical specimen who arguably didn’t perform to his skillset in his final college season at Florida.
And when it comes to the off-the-field issues, the Cardinals need not look further than safety Tyrann Mathieu to believe their locker room culture can set the defensive linemen on the right professional path.
That track record and the veterans in the locker room are reasons for optimism, but the concerns are justified.
Nkemdiche’s talent, however, is undeniable.