Robert Nkemdiche entered Ole Miss' pro day as perhaps the draft's most polarizing prospect, equipped with top-five talent and borderline undraftable character concerns.
Nkemdiche did little to shift the focus one way or another Monday, flashing first-move swiftness in on-field drills but electing not to run the 40-yard dash. Working out in front of a crowd featuring scouts from across the NFL, Nkemdiche looked even more svelte than he did at the combine. Tyler Greever of WJTV provided a look at him going through the workout:
Robert Nkemdiche going through defensive line drills. pic.twitter.com/uxlXcTBkaH— Tyler Greever (@Tyler_Greever) March 28, 2016
Viewed as perhaps the most talented defensive lineman in the 2016 class, Nkemdiche will be lucky to hear his name called on the draft's opening night. ESPN.com's Todd McShay has him at No. 31 to the Denver Broncos, while Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has him falling out of the first round entirely.
Nkemdiche's decline, which was already underway after a less-than-stellar 2015, ramped up after he fell out of a hotel window in Atlanta last December. He was later charged with drug possession after police found marijuana in the hotel room, which was registered under his name. In a combine press conference, Nkemdiche admitted to being drunk but denied using drugs, saying they belonged to another person in the room, per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com:
I told them the truth: It was a rash decision by me. It was uncharacteristic and that's not who I am. That's not what I stand for, that's not what my family stands for. It was embarrassing for me and my whole family and the whole Ole Miss family. I told [teams] that's not the kind of player they're getting—they're getting a straightforward player, and I'm never going to return to that. I'm just moving forward and embracing this moment.
Miller made a point to highlight the bad influences around Nkemdiche:
Questions about Nkemdiche unfortunately can't be answered in a workout. Is he willing to distance from family members that are problems?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 28, 2016
"I'm a good person, and I want to have a good effect on people," Nkemdiche said on SEC Network, per Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal.
From a physical perspective, there wasn't much on display Monday that was unexpected. Nkemdiche can play. He's a 6'3", 294-pound rock of a human with the quickness of someone 30 pounds lighter. Courtney Asher Smith of The Rebel Walk put his movement in proper context:
The Rebel Walk also provided video of him impressing in drills:
Aside from character concerns, teams are also unsure about Nkemdiche's production. He never recorded more than 28 total tackles or seven tackles for loss in a single season. His three sacks in 2015 were the highest of his career. While counting stats are often misleading when it comes to defensive linemen, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network was still concerned (via College Football 24/7):
.@MoveTheSticks: "Robert Nkemdiche is a top-10 talent, but how can you take him in the top 10 when he has 5 games of 2 tackles or less?"— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) March 28, 2016
As for which teams may target Nkemdiche, it's looking more and more likely he'll be available at the top of Round 2. Most of the teams linked have a pick near the top of April 29's second round:
Robert Nkemdiche tells the SEC Network he might have a workout with the Browns later today. #OleMiss— Davis Potter (@DPotterOE) March 28, 2016
Robert Nkemdiche/DL/Mississippi met with the Dallas Cowboys last night...14 visits set up including Oakland, Tampa Bay & Chicago Bears— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 28, 2016
That said, all it takes is one team willing to take a chance. Nkemdiche is an otherworldly talent whose biggest mistake appears to be, according to his story, getting a little drunk and not choosing his friends wisely. There are any number of 21-year-olds who have made similar mistakes in the past. Some players with even worse backgrounds have gone higher in past drafts.
If Nkemdiche can get in meetings with staffs in the middle of Round 1 and do enough to impress them, he could lock himself into Round 1. We saw Monday he has more than enough physical talent to make teams reconsider their position.