Former Ole Miss defensive standout Robert Nkemdiche hopes to salvage his draft status, but would be elated if he dropped to the 17th position and was selected by the Falcons.
“That would be amazing,” Nkemdiche said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “That would be a dream come true to come back to Atlanta and give my all and be the best player for the Atlanta Falcons I could be.”
Nkemdiche, who played at Grayson High, was arrested and charged with drug possession after a December incident at a Buckhead hotel. The charges are still pending.
He tried to explain the incident to NFL teams. He told them that he was drinking alcoholic beverages that night and that he was charged with drug possession because the hotel room was registered in his name.
“That was a rash blunder,” Nkemdiche said. “People that know me know that’s not who I am. I don’t do those kinds of things. The media has done a tarnish to my name.”
He was asked to clarify that characterization, which made him look like a victim.
“That was off my mistake,” Nkemdiche said.
The incident has been a hot topic at the scouting combine among NFL executives. Last season, Nebraska defensive Randy Gregory flunked a drug test and dropped out of the first round in the draft. The Cowboys selected him in the second round, and later was suspended for four games after a violation of the league’s drug policy.
Nkemdiche is sticking to his story.
“I tell them the truth,” Nkemdiche said. “It 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 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. I’m just moving forward and embracing this moment.”
Nkemdiche believes the interviews have gone well.
“They believe me,” Nkemdiche said. “It’s the truth.”
Nkemdiche’s story about drinking and trying to distance himself from drugs is baffling to some NFL scouts, who believe that he may have taken a hallucinogenic drug.
In a bizarre move, Nkemdiche said that teammate Laremy Tunsil, who’s projected to be the first player taken in the draft, also was in the hotel room with him.
“There were more people in my room,” Nkemdiche said. “The hotel was under my name. Nobody wanted to take the fall, so it happened to be under my name.”
The interview process will be key to where Nkemdiche is selected in the draft, which is set for April 28-30 in Chicago.
“As we go through this interview process with the players, that’s part of the one where you connect and find out whether it’s 15 minutes or you schedule some time afterwards to find out more about one another and if it’s a good fit,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Those interviews that take place are really important.”
Nkemdiche, at 6-foot-4 and 296 pounds, can play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme or play defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. Coming out of Grayson, he was considered one of the top prep recruits in the nation.
“If you look at Robert Nkemdiche in a vacuum, just watch his Alabama tape,” NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Against the best team in college football, he was dominant. Off that one tape, if he didn’t have any off-the-field issues and if he played that hard every week, we’d be talking about as the first pick in this draft. That’s how talented that he is. That’s how much upside that he has.”
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