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Is Robert Nkemdiche worth a top 5 pick?

Ole Miss pass rusher Robert Nkemdiche could be a target of the San Diego Chargers with the 3rd overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. But is he worthy of a pick that high?

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

For at least one more year, we will see the Chargers in San Diego. This means, for at least one more offseason, we can enjoy going over possible prospects that the team will look to acquire in the NFL Draft. This year I don't want to hear any "there's no way that player will be available" talk. The Chargers own the third overall pick so we are going to have to get familiar with a lot of players and hopefully, just hopefully, they can come out of this draft with an impact player.

The first target I'll review this year is probably one of the more intriguing prospects to watch. He's been the guy that I get asked about the most. Recently, he was linked to the Chargers. The reports were that the team was doing extensive research on his background/work ethic assuming he'd be a top 5 pick. Mississippi's DL Robert Nkemdiche is a walking conundrum. He's on the all "get off the bus team." He looks the part. I would be hard pressed to find five better talents than him in this draft. But where was the production? 5 sacks and 11 TFL's in 2 years should make you raise some eyebrows. Then you watch Mississippi State, and he's creating havoc all game.

I want to change it up this year. I want to focus on one trait a player does well. One trait that sets them apart. One trait that the prospect has that'll make him successful in the NFL. With Nkemdiche, it's his athleticism. It's his first step. It's his ability to overwhelm offensive lineman within the first 2 seconds of a play. I'm sure you're thinking athleticism is overrated and that's a perfectly plausible argument. Personally, I'm a fan of players that win with technique even when they can win with athleticism, as I'll highlight when I write about Oklahoma's WR. With certain players, though, you have to make exceptions. I believe "Bob" is one of those players.

Exploding out of the gate

There are myriad amounts of exposures where Nkemdiche is making contact with the offensive lineman and even a good step or two in the backfield before the other DL have even made contact. You can tell the difference in scheme where Bob can just pin his ears back and let loose. When he does, the explosiveness jumps out on the screen.


This is good Nkemdiche. This is where he has a strong base underneath him and can create that speed to power and destroy guards. This 1st step leads to him walking the OL back into the quarterbacks lap, beating them with a quick arm over, or spinning out to get the QB/RB to flee the pocket or bounce the run. Something I look for is making first contact. You get your hands on a guy 1st you usually win the rep. Nkemdiche does that. He also does a find job with his hand placement, showing improvement this year. This gave him an edge when he was asked to 2-gap this last year.

Bob at his best

This next sequence will show four plays. These four plays aren't all going to be sacks or extreme highlights but these are 4 plays that lead me to believe Nkemdiche has what it takes to be a monster at the next level, if he wants to. These plays circle back to the reason I'm writing this, his explosion. I think he'll be good enough on base downs when he's playing outside the tackles shoulder as a 5 technique. Where he'll be a star is when he'll kick inside over the guards outside shoulder as a 3 technique where he's too everything for them. Too big, too fast, too strong, too quick. This example is against Alabama's right guard. This has every trait you're looking for.

Nkemdiche fires off low and has his hands inside so that allows him to steer the OG. Then you see the strength he has to throw him to the side for the TFL. That's not winning with just athleticism. That's great hand usage. That's a good job of locating the ball carrier and most of all, finishing the play.

Next example, 3rd & 2 and it's a run his way. Big point of emphasis here is Nkemdiche needs to stay square and protect the gaps to both his left and right. Another good job of making 1st contact and extension with his arms to control the RT.

This is a pro move to disengage. Nkemdiche is farther along as a football player than given credit for. Notice his left hand to get the RT's hands off of him then he rips through with his right arm to fully get clean and again, finishes. That's about as good as it gets. The play has everything you want to see in this 3rd and short situation.

Next play shows off Nkemdiche's power. This is what the Chargers sorely lack. Someone to collapse the pocket and there's no where for QBs to step up. I saw this happen 7 times in the 4 games I noted.

You would like to see Nkemdiche rip through or counter earlier here so he can finish for the sack but his power is on full display. Any edge rusher would appreciate this because these are the types of rushes that cause QBs to drop their eyes and scramble. Bob has the kind of power that translates, no matter who he is playing.

Finally, his signature move. Every great pass rusher has one. While Nkemdiche will wow you with strength and quickness off the snap, eventually you're going to have to win with a pass rush move. He likes to set up his spin move but I don't think there's any doubt his "arm over" is his finishing move.

Against Bama alone he beat his man 5 times with this same move. This vine is half speed so you don't really get the feel for just how quick his arm over is or how fast he closed on the QB here. When he kicks inside and is 1-on-1 interior lineman just do not have an answer for him.

Just an athlete

Being "just an athlete" shouldn't be labeled as a bad thing. Just looking over recent early round picks in previous drafts you had Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Jamie Collins, *gulp* Melvin Ingram, and Ziggy Ansah. Even Khalil Mack was more of an amazing run defender who had work to do as a pass rusher. Now, all these guys have shown they can produce.

When you reach a certain tier of athleticism, which I believe Nkemdiche will, those are the guys that you want to take a chance on. This is a relatively weak draft in terms of star power and Nkemdiche is the type of player that at worst, will be an unmotivated player that'll do just enough to be an average starter. At best, he'll flip the switch, realize he has the kind of talent and athleticism to be one of the best defensive lineman in the game and be a dominant player in the NFL. The truth likely is somewhere in the middle and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm in the opinion that he's too athletic and explosive to not be good in some capacity.

With all the talk about athleticism, Nkemdiche is a good football player. He can play up and down the line of scrimmage and knows how to use his hands and length to disengage. He has a signature move which is a deadly arm over, which is more than I can say for any other front four rusher on the Chargers.

Where he's inconsistent is with his gap integrity and locating the ball. He has a tendency to not stay square against double teams and that leads to him getting washed out. As often as he does make first contact, occasionally he'll lean into OL and negate any sort of lower body power he can generate. Finally, you'd like to see him have a counter move once his initial move is stalled.

Numbers aside, as a pure football player, Nkemdiche has gotten better every year. Match that with his athleticism and these type of athletes don't fall off trees. His name might not be popular in the top 5 now but once we hit the combine, he'll wow and it'll be like certain incidents never happened. Would he be my first choice at 3? No. Athleticism is something the Chargers so desperately need on defense and his pass rushing ability will help Ingram, Jerry Attaochu, and Corey Liuget. Sign me up for that. Nkemdiche is my 16th rated player so getting him in a trade down situation would be fine with me.