Last week, upon landing defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche with the 29th pick in the NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals did not bother trying temper expectations.
“Not only is he a guy that we think can be a tremendous player, but he has great schematical flexibility,” GM Steve Keim said. “Has the ability to bounce from anywhere, really, across the defensive line, and in fact in nickel situations can bounce outside and rush the passer. He is a guy that we are extremely excited about.”
“He’s a nightmare for a guard or a center, and he can work at tackle, off the edge,” coach Bruce Arians said. “The thing he brings is such a powerful, inside, quick rusher that runs good stunts and games.”
Indeed, the former Ole Miss star is seen as a dynamic talent, the type of player who could be a game-changer for a defense that needed to upgrade its front seven. The question for most now is when his impact will be felt.
“I’m more than ready,” Nkemdiche said of when he can help the team. “I feel like the people around me, Coach Buck (Brentson Buckner), Steve (Keim), Mike (Bidwill), Coach Arians, everybody around me is going to put me in a position to be successful, and it’s all up to me. I’m going to put in the work. I’m going to do everything to the max, and I’m going to be a great player, and I can’t wait to show that over time.”
Confidence? Sure, but Nkemdiche is not the only one who expects him to play a key role for the team as a rookie, as NFL.com’s Kevin Patra has listed the defensive lineman as one of six NFL rookies in position to make an immediate impact.
Robert Nkemdiche couldn’t have landed in a better spot. The interior defender tumbled on draft day due to literally falling out of a window and concerns about the consistency of his motor. Coach Bruce Arians and a flock of veteran leaders should straighten out the troubled pass rusher.
The Cards desperately needed pass-rushing aid this offseason. In Arizona’s two playoff games the rush barely breathed on quarterbacks, sacking Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton a combined two times. Manufacturing pressure with exotic blitz packages can work wonders over the course of the regular season, but in January, steady penetration from the front line is necessary against higher-grade quarterbacks.
Adding Chandler Jones was part of the puzzle. Having Nkemdiche fall in their laps at No. 29 overall could be the difference-maker. At 294 pounds, the rookie possesses the size and athleticism to push the pocket and get up field. He might have a motor problem, but when motivated he can be a devastating playmaker. With Calais Campbell eating up double teams, Nkemdiche is primed to see plenty of winnable battles out of the gate — especially against weaker guards that litter NFL offensive lines.
The 6-foot-4, 296-pound Nkemdiche will join a defensive line rotation that includes Campbell, Frostee Rucker, Rodney Gunter, Ed Stinson and Corey Peters, so the team won’t necessarily need him to come in and play a large role.
However, if he is able to play at a high level right out of the gate, their defense will be much better for it. And though he has been a Cardinal for less than a week and has yet to even so much as practice with the team, it appears the expectation may be for him to do just that.