Sure, mock drafts have been coming out for months, but until the calendar reads "April" it's hard to get too excited about all the projections and guesses. But, alas, it's April and it's time for our annual "Pick or Pass" series.
As a reminder, this series will shuffle through 10 prospects (two per week) leading up to the draft at the end of the month asking the question to each of our writers: "If Player X was available at No. 14, would you pick or pass?"
Of course, with the Raiders moving outside of the top 10, things get a little more vague and complicated with this series, given the wider range of potential scenarios that could take place in the picks leading up to Oakland's. In a sense, the series more accurately asks the question: "Would you be okay with Player X being Oakland's pick at No. 14?"
It also must be noted that by limiting our scope to just 10-12 players, there will be some notable omissions. This list was compiled from the world of mock drafts, using the most common players assigned to Oakland.
When news broke that Nkemdiche was visiting Oakland in advance of the draft, I can't say I was surprised. Having picked Mario Edwards Jr. in the second round last year — another polarizing but immensely talented defensive lineman — one had to assume that Nkemdiche was in the mold of players Reggie McKenzie was willing to take a chance on.
Of course, Nkemdiche is far more hyped than Edwards ever was.
Coming out of high school, Nkemdiche was the No. 1 ranked prospect in the country in 2013, outranking guys like Vernon Hargreaves, Shaq Lawson, MacKensie Alexander, Laremy Tunsil and others. Since then, however, his career has been a rollercoaster of performance and expectations.
In three seasons, Nkemdiche recorded just six sacks, something he attributed to admitted "laziness". Of course, on the other side of the equation is his unbelievable combine performance: a 4.87 40-yard dash and 35-inch vertical leap.
So what should Oakland do with all this?
My choice is to pass for a number of reasons. For starters, while I believe fully in the "best player available" approach, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which a better player at a more critical position isn't available. Also, while the Edwards pick did work out, Oakland can't afford to whiff on this pick and it's clear that Nkemdiche's likelihood of becoming a flop is far higher than other players.
From a talent perspective, Robert Nkemdiche is arguably a top-five player in the 2016 NFL Draft. That being said, he comes with serous character concerns and a lack of production throughout his collegiate career.
Nkemdiche shares many similarities to Raiders second round pick Mario Edwards Jr. Both players were the top overall recruit out of high school and both players never lived up to their hype in college. Then again, both players have a ton of potential and possess the traits necessary to be forces in the NFL.
So far, Edwards has worked out for the Raiders, as he stepped up after Justin Tuck was injured and made a huge impact on the defensive line. But the key in Edwards' situation is that the Raiders gambled on him in the second round.
The first round is too early for the Raiders to take a risk on Nkemdiche — especially at No. 14 overall. There are plenty of talented players that will be available and can improve the Silver and Black without the baggage of character concerns. If Nkemdiche falls to the Raiders in the second round, that would be the spot I would highly consider drafting the talented defensive lineman.
When I look at Robert Nkemdiche, I see similarities to another guy who was also the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation out of high school, a guy who had a family member play football as well, a guy whose college production didn't match his freakish athletic ability. I see Mario Edwards Jr.
Nkemdiche came into college as a standout defensive end prospect, but due to his immense size was moved inside to defensive tackle. While he did not rack up the sacks at that spot, he did eat up blockers and helped Ole Miss' defense become one of the finest in the nation. You know who else's job it was to eat up blocks as a defensive tackle? Justin Smith, playing in front of Aldon Smith. Hmm.
The reason Nkemdiche's production was seen as subpar was simply because of expectations; he came in as the top recruit in a 2013 Ole Miss class recruited by coach Hugh Freeze and assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Baggs O. Cash that was one of the best classes in SEC history. That class included Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquan Treadwell and a plethora of other quality players who have made Ole Miss a national powerhouse. Ole Miss smacks of a program that can recruit the best players in the country, but can't coach them up. They routinely collapse late in seasons and have a lack of effort in big games. The Raiders don't have that problem anymore.
The thing about this draft is, after the first eight players or so the talent level drops off considerably. If Robert Nkemdiche played up to his potential he would be on consideration for going number one overall. He is that talented a guy. Mario Edwards was as well, but like Nkemdiche he was shuffled around on the line and didn't reach that potential, with some questioning his motor. How many teams would love to have picked Edwards now?
It's true that Nkemdiche was popped for weed, but so was Randy Moss and myriad other prospects throughout the years. There might be a handful of players in this draft with more raw ability than Nkemdiche, and all of them will be going in the top ten picks. 14th overall is a perfect time to take a chance on a guy like this. Oakland could even trade down a few spots to someone who wants Paxton Lynch and still acquire Nkemdiche. But if they can't trade down for whatever reason, they might as well pull the trigger.
There are many questions surrounding Robert Nkemdiche which make him a very difficult player to evaluate. If his production in college had met his potential or if he didn't have red flags regarding his character, things would be easier. He has one of the bigger mistakes on record for a potential first round pick, being as he got arrested for possession of marijuana after falling 15 feet down out of a window.
That said, I don't see as much of an issue with that as others do. I think he responded to it well and if he passes the test of Reggie McKenzie's interview, then I would not pass on drafting him at number 14 over character concerns. My biggest question is whether he would fall farther down and enable the possibility of the Raiders trading back and still getting him, or even trading up from the 2nd round to draft him with their 2nd pick of the draft.
My conclusion however is that at pick number 14 in the first round, I would pass with selecting him unless their other top targets are already gone. I would rather one of the top offensive linemen like Jack Conklin or Taylor Decker if they are there, and I would also much prefer Ezekial Elliot as well. I do not have a problem drafting him if he is the best player available still on the board because his versatility and potential is impressive, but if he hasn't been picked by 14 then he might be on a serious fall that could make him available later at a better value.
There are a lot of experts who project Nkemdiche as a top three defensive end in this class. On the field, his lack of production has some pointing to Mario Edwards last year, but the first major difference is that the Raiders didn't select Edwards until pick 35 and it was only his questionable motor that had scouts worried.
Nkemdiche, however, has far more red flags. There are questions about how well he takes coaching, as well as off the field issues including a recent charge of marijuana possession after falling out a hotel window — an incident that caused him to miss the Sugar Bowl last January. That's not the lasting impression you want to leave. He is a bigger risk than Edwards ever was, and I just don't see the Raiders coming near this guy at pick 14. Nor should they.