By: Kayla Mortellaro
April 28, 2016
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals selected Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche with the 29th overall pick in round one of the 2016 NFL Draft on Thursday night.
Nkemdiche’s sophomore season at Ole Miss included a breakout year. He started every game at defensive tackle and contributed 27 tackles with three tackles for a loss, along with two sacks in 2014. In 2015, he added 26 tackles to his resume with seven tackles for a loss and three sacks.
“Extremely excited about the 29th selection for us, Robert Nkemdiche,” GM Steve Keim said Thursday night. “A guy that we had rated extremely high. From a talent perspective, has tremendous skills, height, weight, speed, rare movement, tremendous flexibility for a big man. Not only is he a guy that we think can be a tremendous player but has great schematically flexibility.”
Both Keim and Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians are excited about the 6-foot-4, 296 pound Nkemdiche’s flexibility on the defensive line and what challenges he will possess for opposing offensive linemen.
“He’s a nightmare for a guard or a center,” said Arians. “I like our group of pass rushers right now tremendously. With the flexibility of Chandler [Jones], Markus [Golden], Rodney [Gunter], Calais [Campbell], we have a good group now.”
When asked, Arians even likened Nkemdiche to former Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett, but called Nkemdiche, “a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger and a little bit faster.” In other ways, some are comparing the two for Nkemdiche took to Twitter to announce he wants to buy a pet panther after being drafted.
But on a more serious note, Nkemdiche made headlines in Oxford, Miss., for something other than his talents on the field.
In December 2015, he was involved in an incident that saw him fall four stories from the Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead. Police later found marijuana cigarettes in his room and he was eventually charged with drug possession. Subsequently, that incident resulted in his suspension from the 2016 Sugar Bowl.
Despite Nkemdiche’s off the field incident, Keim and Arians are convinced it was an isolated incident.
“We spent more time with him personally than anyone else in this draft process,” Keim said. “He is a guy that we have gotten to know pretty well. The incident happened, it was an embarrassing situation for him and we feel it is in the rear view mirror.”
Nkemdiche joined the media on a conference call and reflected upon his fate in December 2015.
“That wasn’t anything that really reflected who I am, it was a true incident, true accident that happened and a blunder and it’s not who I am,” Nkemdiche said. “And over time, you’ll see that I am a great person and I was a perfect pick for them and I can’t wait to play and help them win more games than they already did.”
Overall, Nkemdiche is excited about the opportunity to get to Arizona and prove himself as a player who can fit-in in any way the Cardinals need, whether it is playing the three technique, rushing the passer or being a run stuffer.
“I’m aggressive,” Nkemdiche said when describing his game. “I’m very smart, almost spastic. I just love the game. I can pass rush. I can stop the run. I can just fit into the defense well, I can be very disruptive and I know how to get in the backfield and cause havoc and cause problems.”
Nkemdiche will be able to provide another element of youth to the defensive line, in addition to the off-season trade the Cardinals made for Chandler Jones.
2016 marks the fourth NFL Draft Keim and Arians have been partnered together with the Cardinals. Previously, the tandem selected guard Jonathan Cooper with the number seven pick back in 2013, safety Deone Bucannon with the number 27 pick in 2014 and offensive lineman DJ Humphries with the 24th selection in 2015. Cooper was traded in the off season to the Patriots for pass rusher Chandler Jones, while Bucannon has proved to be a versatile player, shifting to a linebacker role. Last year, Bucannon had 112 tackles, 93 of them solo efforts, three sacks and one interception. Humphries did not see playing time in his rookie season, but with the departure of Cooper, it is believed he will have an increased and important role protecting quarterback Carson Palmer.
Coming up next: Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft on Friday, April 29, 2016.