When Robert Nkemdiche met with the Arizona Cardinals at the NFL combine, he had a very clear message for the organization’s personnel.
“I know it, man. I’m meant to be a Cardinal,” Nkemdiche told them, according to Arizona general manager Steve Keim.
A few weeks later, Nkemdiche visited Arizona and again left them with the same message.
Throw in another meeting last week when they visited Nkemdiche, and it’s easy to see how the relationship evolved into the Cardinals selecting the former Ole Miss star Thursday night with the No. 29 overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft.
But it was the possibility to play with Cardinals safety and former LSU great Tyrann Mathieu that really caught Nkemdiche’s eye about potentially playing in Arizona.
“They accepted me for who I am,” Nkemdiche told reporters Friday in Arizona. “Everything felt like it was meant to be when I came here. Having dinner with Tyrann and seeing what he went through in a similar process that I went through in the draft and seeing him turn it around and making it into something so beautiful. It just seemed like it was the right place to be.”
Of course, Nkemdiche’s biggest area of concern when it came to the draft was his off-field behavior, which was highlighted when he fell from an Atlanta hotel window in December.
If it was based on talent alone, Nkemdiche would’ve possibly been a top-five pick, but his actions away from the gridiron worried teams. Mathieu, who has now become a big part of the Cardinals’ defense, also had to face that perception when he was being drafted, and Nkemdiche said that connection steered him to hoping he’d end up in Arizona.
“It makes me feel very confident,” Nkemdiche said. “Tyrann is an amazing dude. I’ve been a fan of his for a very long time, ever since he was the ‘Honey Badger’ at LSU. I saw him go through a situation. People go through things in life. It’s up to you to turn it around and face forward. He did that. He’s an amazing dude. Can’t wait to make plays with him and kill it.”
Although the off-field concerns were the bulk of what gave teams pause about drafting Nkemdiche with a top pick, it wasn’t the only thing pushing his draft stock down.
There were also many who thought football wasn’t a priority to Nkemdiche and that he showed that by taking plays off throughout his career at Ole Miss.
“It’s just me having to be a more mature player and focusing on details on every play and evolving and growing as a player,” Nkemdiche said. “I’m going to be a great pro and handle my business.
“This whole process, I’ve just been thinking about getting back to football, getting back to grind. That’s all I’ve been thinking about. Football, football, football. I’ve had to answer so many questions and talk about every off-the-field interest of mine when my interest really is about football. That’s what it’s been the whole time, and it’s back. I can’t wait to pursue that dream.”