The pre-draft process is an intel-gathering mission on prospective employees. And although certain prospects tend to attract groupthink in the scouting community, others generate the varied opinions that come from 32 different franchises with 32 unique approaches to talent evaluation. Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is taking a closer at some of the most notable -- and polarizing -- prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft, to determine draft range and team fits.
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What I like
Nkemdiche might be the most gifted defensive tackle in the 2016 class. Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds with 4.87 speed in the 40-yard dash and freakish movement skills, he is a destructive force at the point of attack as a run stuffer/pass rusher. Although Nkemdiche's numbers (just seven career sacks and 98 total tackles in three seasons at Ole Miss) fail to match his athleticism and raw talent at this point, there is no denying his promise as an interior game wrecker. In the middle of the Rebels' defensive front, he destroyed the timing of opposing running games with his first-step quickness and agility, but also flashed the strength to hold the point against double teams on the interior. With Nkemdiche capable of tracking down runners as a sideline-to-sideline pursuer, as well, the athletic freak must be accounted for on every down.
As a pass rusher, Nkemdiche's athleticism and quickness is problematic for slow-footed offensive guards. He showcases a little wiggle engaging blockers at the line before using an arm-over or rip move to work free. Nkemdiche complements his slick finesse moves with a variety of power maneuvers that keep blockers on their heels. He possesses an explosive "butt-and-jerk" move that overwhelms blockers at the point of attack, but also flashes a quick arm-over that allows him to work the edges of the blocker to get into the backfield. Considering his combination of athleticism, quickness and power, Nkemdiche could develop into a disruptive interior pass rusher at the NFL level.
Why the range?
There is no denying the raw ability of the consensus No. 1 overall recruit in the 2013 prep class. The five-star defensive tackle is a big-bodied athletic freak, yet scouts consider him a bit of an underachiever based on his limited production (only 19 tackles for loss in three college seasons). Nkemdiche is talented enough to temporarily take over the game as a destructive force on the interior, but he rarely dominates from beginning to end. When I spoke to several coaches and scouts about the Rebels' standout at the NFL Scouting Combine, I frequently heard him referred to as a "flasher" -- and I know scouts are reluctant to place a high grade on a prospect who fails to dominate consistently.
With character concerns also clouding Nkemdiche's evaluation -- see: the bizarre incident where he fell out of a fourth-floor hotel window and subsequently was charged with marijuana possession -- it is possible the ultra-talented defensive tackle ranks as a borderline first-round prospect on several boards despite his immense potential.
Where would he excel?
Nkemdiche is a rare talent capable of thriving in any scheme, but he must be surrounded by the right people to maximize returns. He needs to play for a master motivator who understands how to challenge him and hold him accountable without crushing his confidence or self-esteem. In addition, Nkemdiche probably would benefit from being around a group of alpha dogs who set a positive example with their work ethic and competitive spirit.
The Raiders would be a terrific fit, based on the presence of Jack Del Rio, Ken Norton and Sal Sunseri on the coaching staff. They quickly created a competitive culture in Oakland that would allow Nkemdiche to blossom on a defensive line that features Khalil Mack, Mario Edwards Jr. and Bruce Irvin. Most importantly, Nkemdiche could fill a pivotal role as a hybrid defensive tackle/defensive end in a scheme that seamlessly transitions between 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
The Seahawks and Cardinals also would serve as good fits, based on their strong locker rooms and energetic head coaches. Each organization has enjoyed success with high-risk/high-reward players, guys who bring strong personalities and/or troubled backgrounds. (See: Seattle's success with prickly personalities like Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and others. Meanwhile, Arizona has flourished with the likes of Darnell Dockett and Tyrann Mathieu.) Thus, neither team would shy away from a talented prospect like Nkemdiche despite questions regarding his character and work ethic.
The Cowboys also would appear to be a great fit, with Jerry Jones' gambling ways and the presence of Rod Marinelli on his staff. The team not only took chances on Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory, when others appeared to deem those ultra-talented players as untouchable, but Marinelli has helped a number of underachievers maximize their potential under his direction. Considering Nkemdiche's natural fit as a 3-technique in Marinelli's scheme, a move for the Rebels' standout could be in the draft-day plans for the Cowboys.