The Arizona Cardinals tweaked their draft board this year adding a prospect’s on and off-the-field character to their evaluation process. With the 29th overall pick of last week’s NFL Draft, the team selected former Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
Nkemdiche, viewed by many as a top-five talent, fell down teams’ draft boards because of his off-field behavior, particularly a December incident where he fell out of the fourth floor of an Atlanta hotel room, which led to him being hospitalized and charged with marijuana possession. Cardinals’ General Manager Steve Keim said the team also graded Nkemdiche’s off-the-field behavior poorly, but after spending time with the 21-year-old, they feel like he can learn from his mistakes.
“We gave him a D when it came to personal character, because of the incident,” Keim told The Jim Rome Show on Tuesday. “From an off-field standpoint, we spent more time with Robert than any other player in this draft. We spent time with him at the combine, flew him into Phoenix, spent 24 hours with him here at our facility and then Michael Bidwill and I had an opportunity a week before the draft to spend time with him as well. So we got to know the person and felt very comfortable with him.
“More than anything when you draft a guy like that, or guys like Tyrann [Mathieu] or guys who have made mistakes, I think it’s important to feel like they’re remorseful, to feel like they have made a mistake and they’re ready to move on. And Robert right now, to me, is a perfect example of that situation, he’s embarrassed and he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder and he wants to prove everyone wrong.”
Like many teams, Keim rated Nkemdiche the football player very well, and is excited of what his upside could be.
“His football character was a B, which we felt like was very good. He is a passionate football player,” Keim said, before mentioning hand placement, technique, and footwork as things Nkemdiche can be coached on. “More than anything the guy is a tremendous talent.”
Since losing 49-15 to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game, Keim knew he needed to improve their defensive pass rush, and by adding Nkemdiche and trading for Pro Bowler Chandler Jones, Keim is thrilled about the pressure they can apply to quarterbacks now.
“We started phase two of our off-season program and just being out on the field seeing our guys moving around even though they’re not in pads,” Keim said. “Seeing Chandler Jones’ length right besides Calais Campbell, seeing a guy like Markus Golden take another step this year, Rodney Gunter who we drafted in the fourth round from Delaware State last year who had a tremendous year, and then a guy like Frostee Rucker, who’s sort of the guy that’s not thought about a lot but had a great year last year as well, who is really the catalyst for our defensive line.
“I think we have a really good rotation. I think we’re going to be able to create some havoc. When you have that kind of depth on your defensive line you can roll players in and out and when their offenses are tired and it’s late in a game or it’s late in a series and you can roll players like that it’s obviously a great weapon to have.”
One addition Keim wasn’t okay with though is Nkemdiche saying he wanted to buy a pet Panther with his new contract.
“Coach [Arians] and I both agree the only time we want him to have a Panther is when we travel to Charlotte this year,” Keim laughed.