As stops throughout the predraft process go, pro day workouts are about prospects providing answers to key questions. From proving timed speed, athleticism and strength to handling themselves professionally with hundreds of influential eyes trained on them, these events give NFL hopefuls another chance to prove themselves to scouting departments as the draft draws closer.
For Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche, Tuesday’s pro day didn’t provide much in the way of supplying scouts and personnel executives with anything they didn’t already know.
The 6’3”, 294-pound crown jewel of the Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class opted not to run the 40-yard dash again, standing on his 4.87-second effort from the combine. He did, however, take part in positional drills, showing off the rare athleticism, explosiveness and power that have made him a household name over his three years in Oxford.
Here’s a look at some of Nkemdiche’s rare talent on display, courtesy of Tyler Greever of WJTV and Courtney Asher Smith of The Rebel Walk:
Robert Nkemdiche going through defensive line drills. pic.twitter.com/uxlXcTBkaH— Tyler Greever (@Tyler_Greever) March 28, 2016
Per Gil Brandt of NFL.com, Nkemdiche’s workout on Monday was described as “special” and “rare.”
That’s all well and good, but it won’t be Nkemdiche’s natural talent that has NFL teams concerned come late April.
Once considered a top-five lock in this year’s draft, Nkemdiche’s biggest concerns are off the field, where poor decision-making led to a less than ideal ending to his career at Ole Miss. Nkemdiche was arrested on drug charges after falling out of a hotel window and subsequently suspended for the Rebels’ Sugar Bowl appearance, announcing shortly thereafter he would leave school early and enter the draft.
The red flags didn’t end there. At the combine, Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported that Nkemdiche wasn’t impressing teams with his interviews behind closed doors, and he didn’t fare much better at his official press conference. Nkemdiche took plenty of flak for mentioning that teammate Laremy Tunsil, who is in the conversation to be the first overall pick, was with him the night of his arrest.
That didn’t sit well with many, as it looked like Nkemdiche was throwing his teammate under the bus.
Nkemdiche is a rare natural talent, but he’s not without his concerns on the field, either. While he’s extremely explosive with a dangerous combination of quickness and power, Nkemdiche is still incredibly raw and has yet to figure out how to maximize his abilities with sound fundamentals and polished technique.
For all his promising talent, Nkemdiche’s production was lackluster as well. Over three years at Ole Miss, he managed just 6.5 sacks. Those numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but they do illustrate that simple raw ability doesn’t always equal success, and Nkemdiche needs to improve when it comes to finishing plays.
Nkemdiche knows he has plenty to prove to NFL teams, but when speaking to reporters on Monday, he took issue with questions about his work ethic and love of the game, also stating his off-field mistakes don’t reflect his true character, per Michael Quirk of 247 Sports:
My film and my work ethic will show that (there are no concerns about motor). I guess it comes from I missed some plays, didn't finish some plays, production-wise I let some plays slip out of my hands. As far as taking plays off and giving (no) effort, I don't do that.
I'm confused where (love of the game questions) came from. I don't really know where that came from. I guess it's because I play the saxophone, also. I love football and I do everything for football.
I've been honest, I've been truthful with teams. I've made it clear with teams that's not who I am, you have nothing to worry about. That's not my character, that's not my personality. I'm a positive person, I'll be an asset to the team and the community wherever I end up.
Like many members of the media, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah knows that among this year’s top prospects coming out of Oxford, Nkemdiche is easily the biggest risk:
Tunsil, I know exactly what I'm getting. I look at Treadwell, and I know exactly what I'm getting. Nkemdiche is the wild card. That's the one where the packaging is not clear. You're going to open that thing up and you're going to find out whether you've got something you really love, or whether you want to return that to the store.
With his size and skill set, Nkemdiche could make a big impact in any defensive scheme at the NFL level. But it will likely take a very specific situation at the next level to allow him to thrive, both on and off the field. He’ll need to be surrounded with veteran leadership and structure to keep him out of trouble and an experienced, effective coaching staff that can help him develop his natural skills and reach his full potential.