INDIANAPOLIS — The player most mocked to Rex Ryan's Buffalo Bills at No. 19 overall sure sounds like a Rex Ryan player: a player seeking a second chance.
Ryan has branded himself Mr. Second Chance himself one year in. And this week at the NFL scouting combine, Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche is trying to get his story straight.
Nkemdiche (pronounced kim-DEECH-ee) is one of this year's most polarizing prospects after falling from a hotel window in Atlanta and getting arrested for marijuana possession. According to the police report, his room was “in complete disarray,” along with “seven rolled marijuana cigarettes” laying around and Ole Miss subsequently suspended him. He missed the Sugar Bowl. Nkemdiche said he was drunk that night — not on drugs.
You can bet all NFL teams will be investigating the case themselves and trying to see if he a.) has a history and b.) is telling the truth.
Because on the field, Nkemdiche has flashed signs of being a physical freak teams seek on the defensive line, one player who could potentially start immediately.
"It was a rash decision by me," Nkemdiche said. "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."
Teams, he added, do believe him.
He said there were other people in his room — including potential No. 1 pick Laremy Tunsil — and that the hotel was under his name.
"Nobody wanted to take the fall," he said. "It had to go under my name. It just happened to play out like that."
So, yeah, Tunsil might be answering new questions from teams here in Indy.
And like so many players before him at the Combine podium, Nkemdiche vows he is a changed man, more focused and determined to prove to teams that wasn't the person he is.
Some teams ask about his production on the field; most grill him on his character. He's not sure if it'll all affect him on draft day, adding "I made a mistake as a 21-year-old." In Ole Miss' defense, Nkemdiche had 29 tackles (seven for loss) with three sacks and 26 quarterback pressures. The numbers didn't quite match his physical gifts — he's an explosive, chiseled 6 foot 3, 294 pounds. When he signed with Ole Miss, Nkemdiche was dubbed the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation.
Yet on Friday, Nkemdiche admitted he was "lazy on some plays" and must learn how to finish plays. Not something you hear every day from prospects. Why would anything change when he's handed millions of dollars?
"I know what’s at stake and I know what I have to do as a player to be great in the NFL," he said. "I’m just going to keep focusing on the things I need to focus on as a player that I didn’t focus on so much in college and that I know I need to get better at."
He needed to pay fines for the incident and said the charges are still pending.
Character. Work ethic. The truth that night at Atlanta.
The Bills, and all teams, will need to get some answers.
"I don’t try to create an act because for the people that do know me as a person ... that wasn’t me," Nkemdiche said. "That was rash. It was blunder. The people that know me know that’s not who I am. I don’t do those kind of things. The media’s done a tarnish to my name but I’ve just got to make them understand me as a person who I am. Just got to keep moving forward, just keep being positive and working hard."