I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can._ To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here._
If you follow college football and even dabble in college football recruiting, you have known the name "Nkemdiche" for several years now. He is another name, like "Clowney" before him, that had a reputation that preceded him into college football - thanks to the recruiting hype machine. Then, from there, Nkemdiche quickly found his way onto the "just wait until this guy goes #1 in the 2016 draft" hype lists. In other words, when you start watching him, you are expecting to see a player who walks on football water.
And I did. There are several highlights that show him doing things that normal humans can only dream of doing. There is one play that has been passed around all season long that shows him playing full back, and then on play-action, he is thrown the ball in the right flat where he proceeds to put on the jets and run like a Running Back the final 30 yards to the end zone. He is 300 pounds and he runs like a running back. That is truly insane and shows how amazingly gifted he is.
Yet, there are some major red flags. One involved an arrest last month in Atlanta for possession of marijuana after falling out of a hotel window. It turns out that synthetic marijuana was actually in play, which is more and more in the news these days (Chandler Jones of the Patriots had a similar story last week). But, we are not the types to be scared off by a college student doing something college students will do these days. If he passes all of the on-field tests, as a defensive lineman, we can live with poor judgement off the field once. Unfortunately, the game tape did not always dazzle. Of course, often it did.
What I liked:Nkemdiche is a freakish athlete who can run like the wind and show a burst of quickness that is elite and uncommon for a man his size. He also is built like a linebacker and at 300 pounds appears to be cut from the Julius Peppers athletic cloth. On the move, he is a terror who can destroy plays in the backfield and use his arms to create space and lose a single-team block with almost no effort. With his athleticism, he is ideal for stunts and closing down space in a pocket with regularity. He bats down passes by getting in passing lanes. In watching 200+ plays against top competition, his best 10 are better than anyone you will watch and he shows you that he flirts with being the best player on the field in that game against Alabama back in September. He is very likely the best 3-technique in this draft and can play all sorts of spots on a defensive line.
What I did not like: Aside from his arrest (you certainly don't want to know that you spent a very high pick on a guy who needs bail money in the morning), there are on field things that are troubling. My main one is production. When we are looking at college defensive players, we must see explosive plays in big numbers. Yes, they are being double-teamed if they are this good, but over the course of a season and a career, there better be enough sack and tackles for loss to show you can be productive at that level before we bet on you at the next level. For Nkemdiche, he played 35 games at Ole Miss and compiled 7 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. We want a ratio of 1.5-2.0 explosives per game. He was well under 1.0 and even in his last season had 10 explosives in 11 games. To compare, Aaron Donald in his final year at Pittsburgh (also double teamed plenty) had 39.5 explosives in 13 games (ratio over 3.0). Beyond production (which is tough to get beyond), he doesn't seem to have the motor you want when it comes down to playing through the whistle or running down plays that go somewhere else. If he is on the move, he is great. If he is in the trenches, there is either a burst of quickness off the snap, or he becomes ordinary for the most part.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys:Let's be real clear here. He has all of the tools to become something special, and when you are talking about a 21-year old who has been adored for years, we should not assume he can't develop further when he gets to the pros and into the setting that provides better coaching and so forth. But, as it stands, he comes with a risk that he may look like a better player than he really is. You don't invest the farm for a guy who gets 3 sacks and 7 tackles for loss in his final showcase year in college unless there are some mitigating factors that explain it away. To be honest, he looked like Clowney's final year where that talent appeared to be playing to avoid injury - but Nkemdiche looked that way for 3 years. Then, he caps it off with an arrest that keeps him from his bowl game and you have to continue to ask questions.
The draft game is all about assigning a proper value and making sure you don't overpay. Nkemdiche will be a NFL starter for sure. Someone is going to get a guy who oozes with talent and will make plays that will be all over the Internet. The question is will he be a Youtube sensation or will he be a franchise foundation piece that destroys games for the next decade. If he was a sure thing, you would take him in the Top 5 and not think twice. I didn't see that. But, he will test well at the Combine and certainly go in the 1st round. From there, it will be amazing to watch his development. He is the rare athlete that looks like he can be as good as he wants to be.
If only we knew how bad he wanted to be consistently great.