Marijuana charges stemming from a Dec. 13 incident helped end Robert Nkemdiche's college career a game early at Ole Miss. And now, after publicly declaring for the 2016 Draft, the 6'4, 296 lbs. defensive end faces the morass of draft Internet's morality funhouse.
Highly touted prospects screwing up in advance of the draft is of course not a new phenomenon. And yet the exact degree and definition of "screwing up" is never a fixed point, since the draft is a capricious and warped sort of job interview. League scouting holds whiffs of paternalism and racism. It simultaneously infantilizes prospects while telling everyone to grow the hell up. It obsesses itself with "issues" that might nick The Shield, never mind The Shield's maculate face.
Even having no skeletons in one's closet is, itself, a sort of skeleton in one's closet.
Mark Helfrich was told by a head coach & GM before NFL Draft that "Marcus Mariota not having any red flags was a red flag" #NFLthinking— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 29, 2015
Robert Nkemdiche, in the judiciary of NFL scouting, is guilty of three offenses. The first is the broken window and 15-foot fall. The second is the attendant marijuana charge. The third is the demonstrated irresponsibility. The third speaks to a moral hiccup in personal character and comportment. It raises the eyebrows of owners and GMs across the league who would otherwise fistfight one another for his signature come April. Most damning, however, it ties into a pre-Atlanta feeling that Robert wields a unique personality. As one scout has already said: "(Nkemdiche is) a really different kid. He may scare some people. He's strange strange."
He's strange strange, full stop. He's certainly north of banality, which is a curiosity to bookmark since swaths of draftees are rigidly focused on God, family and football, in that order. He waxes about not football:
Music is the connection to everybody. I love football, but football only reaches a certain amount of people. Not everybody can relate to football. Music? Everybody connects to music. Music is played anywhere you go. Music is the sound that everybody can connect to in any way ... You can make people understand you and really feel you. It's your instrument in this world. How much do you give back? How much are you going to let the world use you in the ways it can use you?"
It's difficult not to offer apologias of this sort for Nkemdiche. He's other-worldly on the football field and reportedly an interesting guy to be around off of it. When he's not freaking out in Atlanta hotel rooms, Nkemdiche seems like an affable dude.
That Robert and his brother Denzel have musical or existential interests beyond football is remarkable amid NFL wet blanketdom, and it's that individualism which sticks in draft people's collective craw. The league as a whole, of course, eschews individuation as much as it's able. Excessive celebration penalties sit on the rulebooks for this very purpose. Self-negation works to one's financial advantage, while non-football outside pursuits -- you know, "life" -- raise questions about "focus" and "drive" and "love of the game."
Further to Nkemdiche's detriment, it's telling that his statement following this disaster sought to clarify a report regarding what drugs were found in his hotel room: "Contrary to a report by FOX Sports, I did not use synthetic drugs," he said, deadpan.
Reading between the lines, there, one could find tacit admission to using actual marijuana instead of some ersatz pot linked to seizures and paranoia. Pushing that further, it appears that actual marijuana use cowers before its synthetic counterpart in league eyes, which would just as soon ban Nkemdiche for a year should he smoke too much of the former. How utterly abstruse that such peccadilloes require parsing in this discussion.
NFL scouting is insane and flawed, not just because it's often flat-out wrong -- as many futures investments turn out to be -- but also for the retrograde lexicon and scoutspeak clotting up player strengths and weaknesses missives. And yet, weirdly, the validity of scout concerns about Nkemdiche's personal life would appear well founded, if not the terms in which they're usually couched. Robert very literally went off the deep end one night, which would send up red flags for even the most laissez ethos in the business.
And so, the Nkemdiche case drops the full brunt of NFL scouting's catholic avuncularity into the bone shredder of NFL draft media's linguistic coding. Robert, meanwhile, having nearly killed himself one evening in Atlanta, lumbers on to Indianapolis next April, where he'll surely recount that night's events to 32 very skeptical rich guys.