Not too long ago, Robert Nkemdiche was arguably the most enticing prospect of the 2016 draft. Nearly 300 pounds of pure muscle and chaos with the athleticism of a man half that size, Big Rob was set to turn three years of disruptive—if a bit inconsistent—production at Ole Miss into a top-five pick and the contract that comes along with it.
But in December, just four months out from the biggest day of his professional career, he got wasted and crashed through a fourth-floor hotel window, bringing the uncaring scrutiny of the pro scouting system rocketing down behind him. He's gone from a sure-fire top five pick to a fringe first-rounder, becoming a fascinating case study in the NFL's off-field risk versus on-field reward conundrum.
|Height||Weight||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical jump||Broad jump|
|6'3||294||4.87 sec||28 reps||35.0 in||116.0 in|
|Season||Solo tackles||Total tackles||Tackles for loss||Sacks|
So yea, he fell out of a window and got arrested for pot possession.
On the night of December 12th, Nkemdiche busted out the window of his Atlanta hotel room and, through a series of falls, ended up on the ground four stories below, dazed but without any serious damage (hey, he proved his durability at least). Cops found weed in the room and charged Nkemdiche with marijuana possession, though to this day he insists that the drugs weren't his and he was only drunk that night.
The Atlanta debacle is just a piece (though certainly the largest piece) of a larger puzzle that NFL teams have haphazardly cobbled together to produce the image of Robert Nkemdiche, the weirdo stoner who doesn't love the game. Robert's brother, Denzel, was kicked off the Ole Miss team after he was reportedly hospitalized for synthetic drug use; Robert admitted to taking plays off during games; he operates a whacky, existential Twitter account and talks about stuff like spiritual experiences and shared existence; he plays saxophone in a blues band and openly challenges the notion that he can't have interests away from football; he wants to spend part of his rookie contract on a panther.
In a league built on the premise that its athletes should fit neatly into cookie cutter prototypes (both on and off the field), Nkemdiche's refusal to conform is perhaps his most egregious sin in the eyes of the NFL.
But Nkmediche's physical talents will make some NFL team look past that.
The term "physical freak" is overused these days, but not in Nkemdiche's case.
Big Rob's 28 reps of 225 pounds was good for 11th at the Combine, but that number doesn't do his game strength justice. When he's so motivated, Nkemdiche can toss offensive linemen like toys.
He's also freakishly fast and athletic for his monstrous size. Among combine D-lineman who weighed at least 280 pounds, Nkemdiche tied for first in the 40, second in the vertical jump and sixth in the broad jump. And like the bench, his 4.87 40 time doesn't really tell the story. Just look at him fly on this trick play from last season.
Yes, that dude is nearly 300 pounds. Here he is looking like a damn running back during his freshman season:
He's a versatile pass rusher.
Nkemdiche came out of high school as a defensive end prospect but ended up spending most of his time as a gap-shooting defensive tackle in Ole Miss' 4-2-5 scheme. Because he has the speed to come off the edge as well as the strength and quickness to penetrate on the interior, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack moved him all over the D-line and he'll have similar versatility at the next level.
Bull rush? Check.
Spin move? Check.
Rob's four sacks as a junior aren't all that impressive, but he had 37 total pressures and was graded by Pro Football Focus as the ninth-best interior pass rusher in the country.
He disappears at times.
Nkemdiche's statistical output is frustratingly modest considering his freakish talent. The refrain among Ole Miss fans is that the lack of production is the expected outcome of being the focal point of the opponent's game plan. But compare Nkemdiche's stats to those of the four defensive tackles picked top-10 in the last five years, all of whom garnered plenty of attention from offensive coordinators.
Stats are from each players' final three college seasons, except for Dareus, who played just two.
|Player||Overall pick||Year drafted||Total tackles||Tackles for loss||Sacks|
This is why you hear scouts talking about Nkemdiche's inconsistent motor. Indeed, Big Rob himself admitted during the Combine that "there's times I didn't finish, times I was lazy on some plays." When Nkemdiche is motivated—when he flat out dominated Alabama last season, for example—he's damn near unblockable. But NFL teams will be looking to get more consistent production.
In the wake of his Sugar Bowl suspension, I explored the complicated legacy Nkemdiche left behind at Ole Miss.
Red Cup's Jim Lohmar explains that Nkemdiche's eccentric personality clashes with the rigid conformity of the NFL. An excerpt:
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."
Former NFL D-lineman Stephen White takes the rather refreshing angle of evaluating Nkemdiche solely for his on-field performances and comes away with the belief that Nkemdiche "has pretty much everything he needs to become a monster."
And here's Rob playing a saxophone, because why the hell not.