Cardinals rookie Nkemdiche: I can be as good as I want to be
Robert Nkemdiche arrived on the Ole Miss campus as the No.1-rated recruit in the entire country.
Not just the top defensive lineman, but the top player overall. In the entire country.
So, when he left after his junior season with 98 tackles, seven sacks, 19 tackles for loss and five passes defensed — solid, but not dominant numbers — it would be fair to wonder just how good the 29th overall pick can be in the NFL.
“I can be great; I can as good as I want to be,” Nkemdiche told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday.
Nkemdiche, who impressed during OTAs and mini-camp but will likely shine even more when the pads are on during training camp, said he thinks he can be a Hall of Fame player, which is the goal.
Take a look at some of his highlight reels, and you believe him. It’s not difficult to find footage of him dominating interior offensive linemen, often times collapsing the pocket and burying ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
But then again, a player with his combination of size, strength, quickness and speed is supposed to do that on a regular basis, and though he showed flashes in college, rarely did he consistently put it all together.
So, is it fair to expect the 21-year-old to be a better professional than college player?
Yes, because Nkemdiche understands he could have — and probably should have — been more impactful.
“I feel like I could have done a lot better, as far as production-wise, because I feel like there was times that I let some plays get out of my hand,” he said. “There were some times I overran plays, there were some times I let the backfield mess my eyes up.
“And those are some of the things I’m focused on now, as a pro, because in this league it’s even harder and there are more offenses that try and screw you up and slow you down as a D-lineman. Really, becoming more of a student of the game is what I’m focusing on and what will help the production.”
As of now, it is unclear how much the Cardinals will turn to Nkemdiche, though there has been some talk about him playing roughly 30 snaps per game. Given that he seemed to wear down while playing nearly three times that many snaps in college, the belief is that with fewer snaps to worry about he will be able to give maximum effort whenever he is on the field.
Then again, maybe effort is not something the Cardinals have to worry about. On the first day of rookie mini-camp Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Nkemdiche was “bench-pressing linemen” in a walk-through, and a few weeks later during OTAs Arians said the team’s top pick was “doing well.”
Unlike his situation in college, Nkemdiche will not be expected to come in and dominate right away. He joins a defense that features established stars in Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones up front, as well as Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary. There are other players, like linebackers Markus Golden and Alex Okafor, as well as defensive linemen Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter and Frostee Rucker who have had success in the NFL, too.
Nkemdiche said he looks up to players like Rucker, Campbell, Mathieu and Peterson, along with receiver Larry Fitzgerald, as guys who are helping him learn the ropes.
“There’s a lot of guys that are role models and they’re just good people, and I like seeing that,” he said. “I have a team full of vets that are good people.”
But while he is looking to his teammates for advice and guidance, Nkemdiche said he models his game after a couple of players who never donned Cardinals Red and White. However, if he can come close to matching their level of production, the organization would likely be satisfied.
“Warren Sapp is one of my favorite under-tackles ever to play the game, he was a bad dude,” Nkemdiche said. “And John Randle. I didn’t watch him growing up, but I’ve watched a lot of his old film in Minnesota, he’s amazing.”