“Robert Nkemdiche is destined to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.”
Three years ago, that was the sentiment that many football scouting services shared in regards to Nkemdiche. At the time, he was the undisputed consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the 2013 recruiting class as well as the most talked-about high school football player in America.
The coveted 6’5’’, 260-pound 5-star defensive end from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia possessed the type of rare freakish physical gifts that cause hysteria in the football recruiting world. That’s why many initially projected the heralded blue-chip recruit to become a sure-fire star and a future top NFL prospect once he reached the collegiate level.
Nkemdiche’s three-year career at Ole Miss didn’t quite live up to those lofty expectations, though. It was more a series of flashes of that immense potential instead of the steady dose of domination that many had originally envisioned.
Solid, yet unspectacular is how you could sum up his stint in Oxford. Unfortunately, it’s the bizarre and abrupt ending to his tenure as a Rebel that’s opened the door for a whole bunch of new questions that scouts and evaluators will now be asking.
Back in December, Nkemdiche made headlines for all the wrong reasons when he fell out of a window of the Grand Hyatt Atlanta Hotel, and was subsequently arrested and charged with marijuana possession.
Since the incident, there have been numerous reports indicating that there are growing concerns in the NFL scouting community about Nkemdiche’s personality, which could have a dramatic effect on his overall draft stock.
CBS Sports’ Rob Rang said that, “On its own, the fall might be just a bizarre accident. Frankly though, there were scouts worried about Nkemdiche’s commitment prior to the incident, which earned him a citation from Atlanta police for marijuana possession.”
In his story for the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, Bob McGinn quoted an anonymous scout who said this about Nkemdiche, “He’s really a different kid. He may scare some people. He’s strange strange.”
CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler talked to two different scouts about him, and each expressed concern, one calling him a “Wild Card” and the other saying that “He’ll need a strong locker room and position coach.”
Two of the five scouts that NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah talked to called Nkemdiche the most polarizing player in college football. One said, “Nkemdiche is very talented, but he’s also very troubled. There will be some interesting discussions.” While the other echoed that sentiment saying, “He’s very talented but there are a lot of issues off the field.”
Though none of the scouts have come out and directly said it, it’s pretty clear that one of the main worries they have about Nkemdiche revolves around the Zen energy that he said that he found this past season.
He talked about it in an interview with the Associated Press. It’s a conversation that produced some rather interesting quotes.
“I have a different role on this team — a different DNA. I feel like this is the moment where I’m the one that needs to step up and make my energy felt.”
“This team is stuck in the moment. Because the moment’s real beautiful.”
The freakishly athletic Nkemdiche has always had a spiritual side that’s slowly developed since he was a teenager. The 21-year-old — who came to Ole Miss from Loganville, Georgia, as the consensus No. 1 recruit in the country — said his time spent in “front of the lens” has helped him realize there’s more to life than fame.
“I hate to ever say I’m there. You’re there but you’re never there. It’s a paradox.”
When it comes to evaluating a top NFL draft prospect, scouts will go to the greatest lengths imaginable to find out every last detail about a player. That includes monitoring a player’s public social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook.
When jumping down the rabbit hole that is Nkemdiche’s official Twitter profile you begin to get a feel for why scouts—especially those of the old-school variety—would publicly tag him with the “strange strange” “different kid” and “wild card” labels.
Here’s a sampling of his more interesting tweets.
Some of it is Jaden Smith-esque. Some of it seems like it’s best suited for the “I’m 14 And This Is Deep” subreddit. Some of it sounds like a message you’d read on the little paper at the end of a Yogi tea bag. Mostly, though, it’s just some typical juvenile thoughts from a young college guy, who may or may not have been under the influence of a mind-altering substance, making an attempt to sound profound.
It’s innocent enough. Mental exploration, conscious expansion and finding your spiritual side isn’t a crime and it’s not something a young person should be downgraded for. Still, let’s remember who’s “looking through the lens” at Nkemdiche, analyzing his character and personality and reading those tweets.
It’s NFL scouts and coaches.
So-called “free spirits” are not exactly welcomed with open arms to an NFL locker room. Coaches want good soldiers that don’t ask questions and who simply go out and execute the game-plan that’s laid forth for them.
Could you imagine a defensive coordinator telling Nkemdiche to penetrate the B-Gap, and he responds by saying something such as “How can I enter the gap, if I’m already in the void?”
It’s perfectly fine that Nkemdiche has discovered a different energy and a new level of spirituality that brings him some inner peace. But since he’s chosen to be so open about it, he’s now opened the door for NFL scouts and coaches to question whether that type of personality fits in their locker room.
Though the postseason evaluation process has just gotten underway, Nkemdiche has already been labeled as the most polarizing prospect in this year’s class. His potential draft stock fluctuation should be one of the more fascinating storylines to watch unfold in the lead up to the 2016 NFL draft.