INDIANAPOLIS – The Raiders, like most NFL teams, prefer drafting players without baggage. Players with great talent, production and character is a coveted trifecta that isn’t always found.
With so much riding on high draft picks, teams do intense research into players under consideration. That will certainly be the case with Mississippi defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, a player slotted to the Raiders in multiple mock drafts.
The Raiders have more pressing needs at cornerback, interior linebacker, offensive tackle and safety, but the defensive line could be an important spot with uncertainty surrounding Mario Edwards Jr.’s neck injury and Aldon Smith’s ongoing suspension.
Nkemdiche is a freakish talent with lackluster production and some off-field issues. His most recent occurred this offseason, when he fell out of a hotel window and was arrested for drug possession.
He has to address these issues at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he’s getting grilled by teams considering him as a first-round talent. He admitted being drunk during the hotel incident, which sparked character concerns. His strategy is to he open about mistakes and show he’s focused on the future.
“I tell teams the truth,” Nkemdiche said on Friday. "It was a rash decision by me. Uncharacteristic. That’s not who I am. That’s not what I stand for. That’s not what my family stands for. It was embarrassing for me and my whole family, the Ole Miss family. I tell them that’s not the kind of player they’re getting. They’re getting a straight forward player. I’m never going to return to that. I’m just moving forward and embracing this moment.”
Consistency was also of great concern for this player, who showed up for some games and took others off.
“There are times I didn’t finish,” Nkemdiche said. “I was lazy on some plays at times, but I told them I’m going to keep growing as a player. I’m going to keep learning how to finish and keep becoming more of a student of the game and just focus on being the best NFL player I can be.”
The Raiders generally go after high character players without off-field issues. There are exceptions, as they did with Smith. They prefer workaholics, though they selected Edwards Jr. despite worries over effort. That choice paid dividends and garnered a productive player.
Teams must be convinced issues are in the past. Meetings and research are key in that effort, especially with coaches who would work with him daily.
“Everybody looks at it differently,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said when asked about Nkemdiche. “The one common denominator is that it’s easier for all of us when the talent is obvious, the production is there and all the character issues are answered. That makes for a clean pick. If you don’t have all of those things, there are questions that have to be answered and teams have to decide what’s an option for them and where that player fits on the draft board.
“I’m sure this young man you’re referring to will be in that same situation. If there are questions, they’ll need to be answered by the teams preparing to select him at some point.”