Robert Nkemdiche was billed as the next Jadeveon Clowney for obvious reasons. He was the first No. 1 overall prospect in the country to play along the defensive line since Clowney, so expectations were higher for him than any trench player between them.
That comparison, however, led some to erroneously call his freshman season a "letdown." His quantifiable numbers (34 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks) were slightly worse than Clowney's in 2011 (36 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks), which made it seem, at first glance, like he wasn't living up to the hype.
But Nkemdiche isn't the next Clowney. He never was, and he never will be. The comparison starts and ends with their recruiting pedigree and the fact that they are lineman. Clowney is a pure rush end (who might even play linebacker in the NFL), whereas Nkemdiche is a hybrid end/tackle. Many of his best plays do not appear in the box score.
As Bleacher Report's Michael Felder wrote last season:
Against the run, Nkemdiche proves his worth. He is an every-down defensive end because he is strong enough to the edge against offensive tackles on any given play. He is the rare freshman who can get full arm extension, turn blockers, disengage and work his way to the ball-carrier.
Nkemdiche is not the sack machine that people wanted when he came out of high school, but he’s been a treat to watch. The freshman does things in the run game that go unnoticed by casual viewers, but that frees up his teammates to make plays. He is a monster against the run, a rare trait for someone so young.
The media is sometimes prone to cutting corners. It looks for raw, unadjusted data to tell the story of things it hasn't watched, hoping that grounding its claims in "numbers" will give them ethos.
The SEC media resisted that temptation and gave Nkemdiche the credit he deserves after a fine freshman season.