ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos will have plenty of draft prospects make the rounds through their suburban complex in the coming days and weeks.
But Thursday, they planned to play host to one of this year’s prospects who has plenty of question marks in tow as Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche was on their pre-draft docket.
There were times, based on his physical characteristics and potential, that Nkemdiche was considered a potential top-10 prospect in this draft. At 6-foot-3½ and 294 pounds, Nkemdiche often shows top-tier athleticism, but the in-game production does not always match.
He had seven tackles for loss and three sacks this past season, well behind the national leaders in those categories or even the leaders in the Southeastern Conference, to go with three tackles for loss and two sacks in 2014. In his three seasons at Ole Miss, Nkemdiche had six sacks.
So, on the field he’s certainly a football riddle. The Broncos will always believe fiery defensive line coach Bill Kollar can unlock a player’s talent and improve effort, but Nkemdiche also comes with some off-the-field baggage as well. He was arrested in December, in Atlanta, for marijuana possession after he had fallen 15 feet through a hotel window.
He was suspended from the team’s bowl game, then elected to enter the draft as a junior. At the scouting combine this past February, Nkemdiche denied using marijuana and told teams he was drunk.
“It was a rash decision by me, uncharacteristic," Nkemdiche said at the combine. “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."
Asked if he believed teams believed him when he said it was an isolated incident, he said: “They believe me. It’s the truth and it’s what I’m going to keep moving forward with. I’m going to stick to my story. That’s what it is.
Asked if he was under the influence of any substances at the time of the incident, Nkemdiche said: “Yes. I was drinking. I was drunk."
He also answered “no sir, no sir" when asked if he had used marijuana that night.
But with the 31st pick of the first round – the final pick of the round – Nkemdiche would get some consideration from the Broncos, who have taken Bradley Roby and Shane Ray the last two years, prospects who had off-the-field questions that the Broncos researched.
Roby was cited just before the 2014 draft for operating a vehicle under the influence when he fell asleep in his car while it was parked. He was later released by police. The Broncos looked into the incident, as well as a 2013 disorderly conduct arrest, and decided Roby was worthy of their first-round pick.
Roby has been a key situational player in their defense during the last two seasons.
The Broncos also elected to trade up two spots in last year’s draft to select Ray, who was cited for marijuana possession in a traffic stop just days before the draft. Ray was not arrested in the incident and police on the scene said he was not impaired and Ray was allowed to drive away from the scene.
The Broncos looked into that incident as well and decided Ray, the No. 10 player on their draft board last year, was worth the selection at No. 23.
Having lost Malik Jackson in free agency with Antonio Smith also an unrestricted free agent, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said at the league meetings that the team will certainly target defensive linemen in a draft that is deep at the position.
“Bill [Kollar] can be creative in there in how we play those guys,’’ Kubiak said. “Obviously, we’ve got four guys on our roster right now that have played a lot of football for us. We’ve got to get better there in the draft and that’s something we plan on doing.’’