OXFORD, Miss. — Robert Nkemdiche has recently become a walking contradiction in NFL circles — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
On the subject of his pre-draft status, the former Ole Miss defensive lineman hears NFL execs say he’s a lock for the top five or top 10 … even if media mock drafts universally paint a gloomier picture (bottom of Round 1).
On the subject of draft preferences, Nkemdiche initially shies from answering the question … before revealing the majority of interested parties include franchises from the West Coast (Seahawks, Raiders, Rams, Cardinals).
And when pressed for clarity about the situation of his skittish brother, Denzel (also a former Rebels defender), Robert Nkemdiche offered nothing but a terse, “He’s good” on Monday … before dropping the following revelation:
“Me and Denzel and the family have come to a point where we’re going to be separated for the beginning of my career,” said Nkemdiche, shortly after wrapping his pro day workout/informal chats with NFL representatives. “We’re going to keep football where football needs to be and handle that.”
As a standalone comment, this represents tremendous growth on Robert Nkemdiche’s part. It would have been easy (and somewhat commendable, from a family-bonding standpoint) for Robert to invite Denzel to his new NFL market in a few weeks, as a means of assimilating to that culture. Even with the brothers’ checkered past of stumbling into trouble together — and as individuals.
But that plan shall remain on hold, for now. By remaining separate, Robert gets a chance to develop and mature as an NFL rookie — without the ongoing headache of taking care of on-site family members.
By extension, the team drafting Nkemdiche (seven career sacks, 19 tackles for loss) should have one less thing to worry about in the short term, knowing Robert will be more focused on his craft.
And that’s a good thing: At last count, the average NFL career was something less than four years. Four years!
“We’re at the point of our life where it’s time to grow up,” says Robert.
It’s imperative for Nkemdiche (who didn’t run a 40-yard dash at pro day) to demonstrate that maturity to NFL teams in the coming weeks. His draft slot depends on it.
Yes, it’s great that Nkemdiche (6-foot-4, 296 pounds) has uncanny versatility when attacking ballcarriers or O-linemen one on one. It’s also cool when the Georgia native destroys zone-blocking schemes (Exhibit A: the Alabama tape — below).
But none of this matters if Nkemdiche falls into a pattern of excessive drinking, marijuana possession, stirring up trouble with family and friends or demonstrating “lazy” tendencies on the football field.
“Look at me, and then look at the past (track record) … there aren’t any issues — plural.”
Getting inside Nkemdiche’s head for a moment, he doesn’t believe one isolated transgression — like falling out of an Atlanta-area hotel window in December — should stay with a man forever.
And that’s fair … to a point.
“The (lazy) narrative is totally inaccurate to what my experience has been,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said on Monday. “(Robert’s) one of the hardest workers we have in the (Rebels’) strength program. … He has a good heart, he knows what’s at stake.”
Which brings us to the final contradiction in the new-and-improved life of Robert Nkemdiche: Money.
He’s on the brink of potentially earning life-changing dollars, but none of this matters if his passion for football isn’t being served.
“Stereotypes … I kind of break away from the stereotypes,” says Nkemdiche, the Class of 2013’s top-ranked college prospect. “And I will never, ever let anything get in the way of my football career.”
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.