By Chris Emma–
INDIANAPOLIS (CBS) — Just the snap decision between good and bad, right and wrong is more than enough for NFL executives to know about a player.
For all the talents and top-five projections of Ole Miss star defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, his infamous December fall from out a window of an Atlanta hotel room may wipe him off many NFL draft boards. Second-year general manager Ryan Pace and the Bears will need drastic character assurances to select him at No. 11 overall, as they need desperately to hit on draft picks and thus must be careful.
Nkemdiche admitted he was drunk during the Dec. 13 incident, though he denied using any drugs. He was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, a charge he says was enforced because his name was on the hotel bill.
“I told the truth,” Nkemdiche told reporters at the NFL Combine. “That was a rash decision by me, 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, my family and the Ole Miss family.”
Unfortunately, that’s about all Nkemdiche can do now. It’s too late to change the minds of many at the NFL Combine. While he seemed genuine with his words to the media, NFL teams must decide for themselves whether he’s genuine in his responses to their own questions. Even so, the shame and misfortune of the episode may not be enough to save his draft stock.
NFL teams don’t question character because they desire choir boys on their roster — they want to ensure that a player will still be on the roster in four years and not have any outside drama that limits production. Look no further than the failed risk the Browns took on troubled Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, whose life has taken great turns since his selection in 2013.
One of the most enticing names on the board for Pace’s first draft in 2015 was edge rusher Shane Ray, the Missouri standout who was busted for marijuana possession just days before the NFL Draft. The Broncos took a gamble with the 23rd pick of the first round by selecting Ray — far beyond his initial projection as a top-10 talent. He was a small contributor in 2015, appearing in 14 games and making 20 tackles.
Pace has learned from his mistakes in signing defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who never played a down in Chicago before multiple arrests in May related to domestic violence led to his exit from the Bears.
On Friday, Nkemdiche stated and restated that his bad decisions wouldn’t happen again.
“I’ve changed,” he said.
However, Nkemdiche’s play on the field has caused concerns, too. The consensus top-rated prospect of the 2013 high school class had just seven sacks in three seasons, and his desire came into question. Nkemdiche hopes to change that perception in the pros. Still, one longtime scout said he doesn’t trust Nkemdiche.
Selecting at No. 11 overall, the Bears will looking for a sure thing. Pace has said constantly that his team needs more game-changing players, and perhaps Nkemdiche, the player, fits that mold in the his eyes. The previous actions of Nkemdiche, the person, likely ended that chance.
History has shown there’s usually a team ready to take a leap of faith. It just doesn’t seem like that’ll be the Bears.