By Brandon Thorn
Robert Nkemdiche DE #5 – Ole Miss
- 2014 Boise State
- 2014 Alabama
- 2014 LSU
- 2014 Mississippi State
- 2014 TCU
- Ideal build for an interior player with a huge frame (6-4/293) including broad shoulders, long arms, and well-rounded thickness throughout his upper and lower halves
- Possesses all the physical tools you look for including ample athleticism and coordination
- Elite level burst out of his stance as well as agility to maneuver gaps and make tackles down the LOS
- Ability to use aforementioned length to keep a clean chest/control his opposition at the POA
- Immense power generation ability to stun, knock back, and halt momentum of OL
- Snap to whistle player who chases backside and can deliver devastating blows
- Very inconsistent at the POA with sporadic technique
- Too often has soft hands or lack of violent arm extension subsequently results in belly rubbing
- Bad habit of turning horizontally vs the run often leading to an easy wash for the OL
- Slow to utilize pass rush moves, gets stuck on blocks
- Liable to stand up versus double teams, play watch, or put head down on contact
Nkemdiche came to Ole Miss as the No.1 overall recruit in the nation. A major draw for him in joining the Rebels was the presence of his older brother on the team (who has since graduated).
Nkemdiche is entering his junior season after accumulating 23 starts through his true freshman and sophomore seasons. He has 69 total tackles, 36 solo, 4 sacks, 12 TFL, and 3 passes defended through his two seasons of play. He is the defense’s primary 3 technique out of their base 4-3 scheme while serving as a 5 and 0 technique when the team switches to a 3 down lineman front.
Nkemdiche passes the eyeball test with his NFL-ready body at just 20-years old (21st birthday is September 19). He’s very evenly dispersed with muscle from head to toe with rare cuts for someone listed at his weight of 293-296 (although he looks closer to 280 right now). His body type indicates he’d be a twitched up athlete, which as a defensive tackle is fairly rare, and he most certainly doesn’t disappoint in the explosion department. Case in point with this first clip:
His explosive first step and ability to fire out of his stance low, with aggressive hands, makes him incredibly difficult for offensive lineman to cut off from penetrating an opposite gap. Not only does Nkemdiche have the acceleration and explosiveness of a special player, his ability to generate power is even more remarkable.
Oftentimes a player can be a workout warrior without that same strength and power translating to the field. That is not the case with Nkemdiche. His most impressive power generation source stems from his press, or lockout. Check out this clip for a prime example:
The right guard on this play comes out of his stance a second later than Nkemdiche does and pays dearly for it. Nkemdiche shows his powerful initial stun with his oversized mitts to create valuable separation. It forces his opponent to become purely reactive and off-balance, a deadly combination for any offensive lineman in pass protection versus a powerful player.
Nkemdiche smells blood and doesn’t let up, cocking back his powerful right arm with perfect hand placement and leverage to execute a beautiful knockdown. While this ability to rag doll offensive lineman is there for Nkemdiche, his up and down technique doesn’t allow it to shine as it should.
Although Nkemdiche displays high level burst at the snap and overwhelming power on the interior, he isn’t nearly as consistent with firing his hands out in front of him nor with much aggression. It’s a frustrating habit to repeatedly see because it negates part of what makes him so special; his length and power.
To make matters worse, if Nkemdiche loses the initial fight at the point of attack (POA) he has some peculiar habits that need to get ironed out if he is going to live up to his potential. The most detrimental of these – the tendency for him to not fire his hands but rather use his shoulder to initiate contact – particularly versus the run, automatically gives the OL the upper hand. Once the initial battle is lost and his hands aren’t available to fight his way out of the trash, he loves to attempt to spin. This sometimes works brilliantly as he can rotate off blocks by sensing the leverage advantage, but mostly it leaves him perpendicular to his man and easily run out of the play.
This is where his tape starts to really falter as he will get washed out of plays in the run game like he has none of the aforementioned gifts I’ve mentioned. Case in point with this clip:
Each mishap I touched on previously is evident on this play. Nkemdiche uses his shoulder to initiate contact while standing straight up. He then inadvertently spins in the wrong direction to disengage.
This time Nkemdiche fires his hands out of his stance but stands up, attempts to locate the ball, gets turned horizontally, and pushed back four yards on the goal line. Thankfully, the backside cornerback filled his gap to save a touchdown:
I can show you many more clips showing these same faulty techniques versus the run, but lets move on to what allows him to succeed as a run defender, because not all is bad in this area. This next clip is versus LSU, a team with a very talented offensive line. While this wasn’t his best game, like every other tape it is layered with both good and bad aspects.
Nkemdiche is a hard worker on the interior. He does a really nice job of continuing to fire his feet on contact and despite not disengaging very efficiently yet, his leverage, paired with athleticism, allows him to make difficult tackles down the line of scrimmage (LOS).
Here is a perfect example of this:
Nkemdiche makes the tackle roughly five yards laterally from where he lined up because he won the leverage battle and fought like hell to find the ballcarrier. This high-level of effort given from such a talented player is a big factor in causing me to be optimistic about him developing into his talent.
In terms of rushing the passer, Nkemdiche’s primary means to apply pressure is through use of his bullrush. It is very effective, yet predictable. He has a strong push/pull method as well as a slap and rip move in his arsenal but those are still very inconsistent.
It is worth noting that he is one of the more frequently double teamed players I have seen in my studies so far and garners tons of attention from the opposing team. This can be frustrating for any player and while it does hinder his effort at times, overall, he does an admirable job at fighting through it.
So far I have broken down examples of his elite get off and explosiveness, rare power, deficiencies in his technique at the POA, high-level motor, as well as other attributes both positive and negative.
My overarching opinion on this player is that he possesses enough rare size, power, explosiveness, agility, and fortitude to still be considered a highly sought after player moving forward. It’s not uncommon for a vastly dominant player in high school to experience major growing pains when faced against talent that more closely mirrors their own. It’s a safe assumption that with more practice, time, and hard work, Nkemdiche has an excellent chance at growing into his enormous talent and making his name revered yet again.