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ESPN’s Clayton on Robert Nkemdiche to Cardinals: ‘How can you not grab him?’

FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2015, file photo, Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche stretches before an NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Oxford, Miss. Police say Nkemdiche was hospitalized after falling from a wall at an Atlanta hotel. Department spokeswoman Kim Jones says it appears that 21-year-old Nkemdiche broke a hotel room window, walked about 15 feet, climbed over a wall and fell roughly 15 feet late Saturday night, Dec. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning, File)
LISTEN: John Clayton, ESPN NFL insider

The Arizona Cardinals are stoked to have landed Rober Nkemdiche with the 29th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Considered to be a top-10 talent, they expect him to come in and become a dominant interior defensive lineman.

But for all the excitement over the 6-foot-4, 296-pound rookie, the fact remains he was on the board late for a reason, one that is well-documented and was written about by Craig Morgan.

The Cardinals are clearly confident they will be able to get the best out of Nkemdiche, and if they are able to do so this pick will go down as a steal. But not every team was as confident in the player’s future as Arizona, and as ESPN NFL insider John Clayton told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday morning, it led to them not even considering the Ole Miss star.

“I’m sure that maybe a half-dozen teams or so, if not more, took him off the board for character,” he said. “But I’m sure that most of the other teams had him on the board, but I think they were trying to think like Randy Gregory, they would be able to get him in the second round.”

Gregory was a top pass rushing prospect out of Nebraska, a player who was viewed as a first-round talent but fell to pick No. 60 last year because of off-the-field concerns. He went on to record zero sacks as a rookie and has since been suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

“So what I look at it is Arizona being very smart about it because when you have a top-five pick fall to them, and look at the success with Tyrann Mathieu, why not grab him,” Clayton added.

Indeed, the success the Cardinals have had with Mathieu played a role in their selecting Nkemdiche. Cardinals GM Steve Keim said Thursday night that the defensive back spent some time with Nkemdiche and had positive things to report, and while that may not have been the deciding factor in making the pick, it played a role.

But, as Keim told Doug and Wolf Monday morning, he’s not sure if he would have been willing to take the risk on Nkemdiche if Mathieu hadn’t been such a success.

“Probably not,” he said before pointing out how the team spent more time with Nkemdiche than any other player before the draft. “It’s interesting because it hasn’t changed my opinion completely because there are probably 15 to 20 players that are still off our board because of character concerns, and they’re talented guys.

“It’s all based on an individual situation and the time that we spent, whether it’s Bruce Arians, Brentson Buckner, Calais Campbell, even, again, Tyrann Mathieu spent time with Robert and, more importantly, Michael Bidwill.”

Keim pointed out how, as a former federal prosecutor, Bidwill has a good instinct for reading people. There have been times where the GM liked what a player had to say during an interview at the Combine, but the team president would shake his head and explain that the player was performing instead of being honest.

“He has a great feel for it and when we got his stamp of approval, it certainly sealed the deal for me,” he said.

The Cardinals clearly believe Nkemdiche will move on from the very issues that caused him to fall in the draft, and if he does, Arizona will have itself quite a player. Regardless, the way Clayton sees it, the risk was worth taking.

“How can you not grab him,” he asked. “He’s a top-five pick and you hope that you have enough of a support system, a good coach in Bruce Arians, and a good support staff to be able to make sure that he can transform comfortably and not have any problems.”

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