TEMPE, Ariz. -- If there's one player on the Arizona Cardinals -- who understands what Robert Nkemdiche went through as he dropped in the draft last week after teams questioned his character, it's Tyrann Mathieu.
When Nkemdiche visited the Cardinals' training facility in Tempe two weeks after the NFL scouting combine, he met with the Cardinals' All-Pro safety. It was a conference of two players who had high first-round talent but tumbled down the draft board -- Mathieu further than Nkemdiche -- because of off-field incidents and concerns.
Nkemdiche left their meeting feeling comforted.
“Tyrann is an amazing dude. I've actually been a fan of his for a very long time, ever since he's been the Honey Badger at LSU,” Nkemdiche said. “I saw him go through a situation. People go through things in life. It's up to you to turn around and face forward and keep going forward, and he did that.”
Mathieu was suspended by LSU before his junior season in 2012 for reportedly violating multiple drug tests. Before he could be reinstated, he was arrested that October on charges of marijuana possession. Mathieu dropped to the Cardinals in the third round in 2013.
Nkemdiche fell 15 feet out of a window at a hotel in Atlanta last December. When police arrived, they found marijuana cigarettes, according to a police report. Nkemdiche admitted at the combine that he was drunk and has consistently said he didn't smoke the marijuana. Police charged him with possession. Nkemdiche dropped to the Cardinals to 29th overall.
“He told me that things happen in life,” Nkemdiche said. “The media's going to say what they want to say but everything's up to you at the end of the day. Everything's up to you at the end of the day. Everything they say doesn't matter. He kind of just said, 'There are some things that you've got to sacrifice and I want dogs here with no egos.' I remember him saying that and that's what I am, a dog with no ego.”
After they met, Mathieu told general manager Steve Keim he was “excited” about Nkemdiche.
Coach Bruce Arians estimated that 50 percent of the draft prospects this year, last year and the year had “issues” but he doesn't lump each player with a history together. He addresses them on an individual basis. While it took Nkemdiche four meetings with the Cardinals for them to be convinced he was their guy should he be there at No. 29, it took Mathieu three in 2013.
At his introductory news conference, Nkemdiche insisted he's not a “guy with issues off the field,” describing himself as “straightforward” and a “good person.”
“I hate that that perception was even created,” he said, “because that's not who I am.
“I made a mistake and I'm moving forward from it and I'm looking forward to it.”
In Arizona, Nkemdiche has a role model.
Even though he and Mathieu are opposites in size, stature and position, they're similar. Both know what it's like to have their past affect their future. Both know what it's like to fight a perception. But only Mathieu knows what it's like to overcome both. Nkemdiche is still fighting for that chance.
“Having met Tyrann, seeing what he went through and the similar process I went through in the draft, and seeing him turn it around, making it into something so beautiful, it just felt like it was the right place to be,” Nkemdiche said.