The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
First Round – Robert Nkemdiche, DT (Mississippi State, No. 29 overall)
The NFL Draft Report casts a wary eye on the Cardinals’ first round selection. In sort of a déjà vu’ for the staff, could this Ole Miss prospect pull a “Honey Badger” and see the error of his ways off the football field, or are we again seeing a remake of the Demetrius Underwood situation, where a talented player simply self-destructs in life? We are very cautiously including him in this article, because it’s hard to cast the troubled Nkemdiche as an “impact player,” despite his talent.
[RELATED – Click here to read our in-depth recap of the Cardinals’ offseason]
Currently, Nkemdiche is slated to be one of the first defensive ends off of the bench in relief of Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell. The Cardinals say they want to extend Campbell, but that could be a tall order as they also have to carve out a monster deal to retain Jones. If all works out with Nkemdiche, he can serve as insurance against Campbell going elsewhere in free agency.
Nkemdiche has Ndamukong Suh-like athletic ability, but his problems occur when he seems to throttle down more than he plays with intensity. His occasional “let-ups” on the field became much more noticeable this year and he did seem to be more concerned about his running back duties than he did in giving pursuit as a defender. The Ole Miss defender made only two long distance tackles this year, despite having valid lateral agility and burst to give proper chase. When his head is in the game, Nkemdiche demonstrates the ability to easily take plays from the chalkboard to the field.
He needs minimal reps to retain and evident by the fact that he has started every game during his career, he has a good feel for blocking schemes and the vision to locate the ball in a hurry. He understands his assignments and his feel for the ball is above average, but his woeful inconsistency and attention to detail can be maddening, at times. He is not the type who will make an effort on every play to get to the ball and there are more than a few times where he is caught out of position due to a mental error.
Nkemdiche is a hard worker in the weight room, but is the type that needs to be pushed to get the best effort out of him. He has the ability to be a self-starter and he is a good field leader who lets his actions speak louder than his words, but his inconsistency has now become an issue. He is compliant to the coach’s wishes and plays with good intensity and effort when he performs to his ability, but he runs too hot-and-cold to be strongly considered a football player on par with his athleticism.
Ultimately, on the field, we believe that Nkemdiche has a lot to offer. How he performs at the next level, however, will hinge largely on his own head.