Two weeks ago, the staff writers at Silver and Black Pride discussed whether the Raiders should pick or pass on Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. The only writer that chose to pick the most scrutinized player in the draft was RDreamer, two weeks later I join his stance and would applaud if the Raiders pull the trigger on Nkemdiche with the 14th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Nkemdiche's talent on the field has never been a question as I rank him as the second best player in the entire draft behind only Notre Dame middle linebacker Jaylon Smith. His performance against Alabama is the most impressive defensive tape I have watched since Khalil Mack destroyed Ohio State in the first week of the 2013 season. Defensive tackles are generally split into two categories: pass rusher and run stuffer. Most pass rushing defensive tackles such as Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, and Sheldon Rankins are smaller but win with speed and quickness. Nkemdiche is a pass rusher that wins with explosiveness and brute force to bull rush offensive lineman. From a talent perspective, he is a rare player.
The Ole Miss defensive tackle is a 6'3", 294 lb freak of nature that posted a 35" vertical jump and a 11'6" broad jump. Those two drills are great measures of explosiveness and Nkemdiche's numbers are ridiculous for a defensive tackle. His full combine results compared with the rest of the defensive tackle class is provided by Mock Draftable.
Character concerns and an off-field incident in which Nkemdiche was charged with marijuana possession and proceeded to fall 15 feet out of his apartment window have dropped his stock from top-five potential to a fringe first round pick. NFL teams have to nail their first round selection and I felt Nkemdiche came with too many red flags to merit the Raiders 14th overall pick. But after reading an eye-opening article from ESPN's Seth Wickersham in which Wickersham highlighted Nkemdiche and the "out of control draft process", my stance on Nkemdiche has changed leading me to believe his red flags may be overblown.
From Wickersham's piece: Of course, teams know the gist of what happened on Dec. 13. Cops were dispatched to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Nkemdiche was on the ground in front of the hotel, injured but conscious. Upstairs in room 422, there were 12 joints on a table, alongside $51 and Nkemdiche's passport and Ole Miss student ID. A double-paned window was broken. A cop asked Thomas Matthews, a friend, whether Nkemdiche had smoked pot or done any other drugs. "No, man," Matthews said, according to the police report. "He play ball, he don't smoke or nothing."
A cop visited Nkemdiche in Grady Hospital. Nkemdiche told the cop he didn't remember exactly how he fell 15 feet out of the window, and he would later tell teams he was "drunk," "belligerent" and "blacked out." The cop asked Nkemdiche whether he smoked pot. He said no, that he is drug-tested regularly. Nkemdiche's eyes were neither glassy nor red, the cop noted in his report. His speech seemed normal. The cop concluded he was telling the truth, and he told Nkemdiche he was being charged with possession of marijuana because it was his room. "Watch the company you keep," the cop said before leaving. That night, Nkemdiche texted apologies to friends and family. "He still hasn't forgiven himself," says his oldest brother, Bryan.
Nkemdiche turned 21 last September so it was legal for him to be drinking. This does not seem like a "major" off-field issue to me. Nkemdiche made a stupid decision to have friends over with weed, but he didn't smoke and he fell out of the window because he was drunk...which was legal.
His "character concerns" are also highlighted in Wickersham's article. They aren't really concerns as much as teams feel Nkemdiche is a "weird guy" and a "creative spirit". Why that is a problem is beyond me considering how Nkemdiche is viewed as a hard worker off the field. Is Nkemdiche being a little different a legitimate reason for a player of his caliber to fall in the 2016 NFL Draft?
The other major risk that analysts bring up with Nkemdiche is the lack of production as recorded just six sacks in three seasons at Ole Miss. But I would point out that Nkemdiche was double-teamed constantly as the focus of opposing offenses.
A couple days ago, I had a conversation with a friend who follows the draft about whether the Raiders should take Nkemdiche and his stance was that, "Lots of players with no risk end up busting or start having off-field problems once they get paid, so all first rounder's are risky. Why not take one with tons of talent." 49ers head coach Chip Kelly reiterated this message pointing out that, "50 percent of first round picks don't make it," in an interview with CSN.
I asked another friend who evaluates the draft what he thought of Nkemdiche's off-field concerns and he replied, "I've thought it was overblown from the start. He's a top-five talent regardless."
Another point to consider in the evaluation of Nkemdiche is the Raiders are 3/3 when gambling on players with character concerns. Aldon Smith, Michael Crabtree, and Mario Edwards Jr were all criticized for their behavior and all three players have succeeded in Oakland. That is a testament to the Raiders locker room and the leadership Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, and many others provide.
In a draft where the top-end talent is lacking compared to previous years, the Raiders might have a chance to select arguably the second best player in the middle of the first round. Picture Robert Nkemdiche lined up with Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, Aldon Smith, Mario Edwards Jr, and Dan Williams. Congratulations, you just pictured what hell looks like for offenses.