For those not avid followers of the NFL Draft or college football, the name Robert Nkemdiche may not ring a bell, but it will in due time. Nkemdiche is widely considered as the top prospect by draft enthusiasts in this year’s draft, with myself included in that group. He very well could be the first player selected come April.
We caught wind of Nkemdiche back in 2013 when he was the consensus top recruit coming out of high school. While he hasn’t quite put up the production many have expected, especially over his first two seasons, he has made a living in the backfield and has been as disruptive as any defensive player in the country – especially this season. Many considered this as a make or break season for the junior, and he has certainly answered the call, establishing himself as a top 5 prospect in this year’s class. Even though his sack numbers don’t jump out at you, he is a menace at getting into the backfield – it’s not all about production in regards to draft slot, although it does help.
Name: Robert Nkemdiche
College: Ole Miss
Projection: Top 5
Comparison: Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Combination of size, strength and athleticism
- Quick first step/jump off snap
- Extending his arms/hand usage
- Spin Move
- Raw talent
- Handling double teams
- Off-field concerns
Of any prospect in the draft, Nkemdiche could carry the highest ceiling – which is a scary thought when you consider where he’s already at. He does however, without a doubt, have the best combination of size, strength and athleticism. He has put on a good deal of weight which throws any questions of him playing defensive tackle out the window. He is a freakish athlete who often times beats opposing offensive linemen with his strength alone, a lethal combination for a man his size.
If you don’t double team him, he’ll make you regret it every time. Nkemdiche has a quick first step and jump off the snap which makes him great at the point of attack – it almost seems like he breaks through the line effortlessly. He uses his hands and arms very effectively. He provides tremendous penetration on most plays; aside from when he is actually being double teamed. Being double teamed is something he does not deal with all that great. However, it’s a win for a defense when the offense has to account an extra blocker on a single player.
I’ve seen many scouts knock him for lack of pass rushing moves, and while he doesn’t have the widest repertoire, I don’t see a real concern there. He may rely on his strength a bit too often, but when you’re a guy with his instincts, size and athleticism, you can live off that. He also uses his arms effectively and has a decent spin move as well. Adding another move would make him even more of a lock to go in the top 5.
Nkemdiche can be considered a raw prospect, which isn’t always a weakness when you’re dealing with such a sure thing; all that means is he has even more room to grow. As stated earlier, he hasn’t been the most productive or consistent at the college level. There are times where he does everything right – he gets himself in position to make the big play, but sometimes he doesn’t finish. Regardless, he remains the most explosive defensive linemen in college football.
You probably remember his off the field run-in with law enforcement where the police showed up after he had fallen a few feet out his window prior to Ole Miss’ bowl game. Marijuana was found inside the house and he as charged with possession of marijuana. Good thing for him this happened prior to all the off-season events so he has time for it to fade away a bit and overshadow it by a strong combine and good pre-draft interviews. This instance will draw a red flag from only a select few teams, I don’t expect his stock to be hurt much by just one off the field occurrence. Now if this happens again, you can expect his stock to fall. I still expect him to go in the top 5-10 range based on his talent and upside.
When it’s all said and done, Nkemdiche will go do as a perennial Pro Bowler. I think he’s a better fit as a defensive tackle in a 4-3, but he could play the edge in either scheme. Some scouts have compared him to Ndamukong Suh, but I think of him more as a Gerald McCoy. Nkemdiche is a guy who will provide constant pressure in the NFL and make a living in the backfield – his sack numbers will boost once he attention isn’t all on him. I like him as a fit in Detroit to help restore the dominance left behind on that defensive line with the departures of Suh and Nick Fairley.
*Photo credit – Mike Dunn, IM Media Imaging