Seattle Seahawks

Robert Nkemdiche’s fall could test Seahawks’ approach to “red-flag” players

Robert Nkemdiche steps into an agility drill at Mississippi’s NFL Pro Day in March, which showcases players for the NFL draft.
Robert Nkemdiche steps into an agility drill at Mississippi’s NFL Pro Day in March, which showcases players for the NFL draft. The Associated Press

Could Robert Nkemdiche’s fall(s) become the best thing to happen to the Seahawks in this draft?

Nkemdiche was thought by many to be on his way to becoming a top-five pick in the NFL draft that begins Thursday in Chicago. Then in December, the extremely talented defensive lineman from Mississippi fell out of a fourth-floor window from a hotel room in Atlanta while with teammates.

“I was drunk,” Nkemdiche said flatly in February during the league’s scouting combine.

That fall started two others: Nkemdiche’s plummet from a top pick to perhaps the bottom or out of the first round of the draft; and the one he says no one else in that hotel room with him was willing to take when he got cited for marijuana possession as part of the same incident.

Asked about the inconsistency between him saying he was drunk and being cited by the police for possession of marijuana, Nkemdiche said: “There were more people in my room. The hotel was under my name. Nobody wanted to take the fall. It had to go under my name. It just happened to play out like that.”

He said one of the people in the room that night was Laremy Tunsil. His Ole Miss teammate is considered the best offensive tackle in this draft and a likely top-five pick.

“It was a rash decision by me,” Nkemdiche said. “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.”

The Seahawks and many other teams right now are weighing between his decision in that hotel room weeks before the biggest job interviews of his life and the fact he is 6 foot 3, 293 pounds, with a sculpted physique and freakish athleticism. Nkemdiche has been deemed ready for the NFL almost since he arrived at Ole Miss in 2013 as the top defensive-lineman recruit in college football.

But his production in the Southeastern Conference never matched his apparent physical skills or his hype. Last season he had just 2½ sacks for a team that won Mississippi’s first Sugar Bowl since 1970. Nkemdiche was suspended from that Jan. 2 game because of his arrest.

He also spoke candidly at the combine about how “there are times I didn’t finish. I was lazy on some plays at times.”

Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have made so-called “red-flag” players their first pick in two drafts in their six years running the Seahawks to two Super Bowls, the franchise’s first league title and four consecutive postseason appearances.

In 2012, Seattle selected pass rusher Bruce Irvin 15th overall five years after he’d been arrested for breaking into a drug dealer’s house and spending two weeks in jail.

Last year, the Seahawks unexpectedly used their first pick in the second round on defensive end Frank Clark. He had obvious skills as a fast pass rusher, but Michigan dismissed Clark from its football program in November 2014 following an arrest and brief incarceration on suspicion of domestic violence. There was also an incident in June 2012 in which he was charged with stealing a laptop computer from a dorm room.

In both cases, Schneider and Carroll said they did extra investigating and interviewing to get to thoroughly know each player and his story.

“We want these guys coming in with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove,” Carroll said.

Noah Spence is another highly skilled defensive end with “red flags” that could keep him out of the first round. He failed two drug tests, got treatment for Ecstasy addiction and got kicked out of Big Ten football. He transferred from Ohio State to Eastern Kentucky.

How the Seahawks view Nkemdiche and Spence is different than how many other teams — or people, in general — do.

“Different general managers have different philosophies,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said last week during a teleconference. “At the end of the day, do you trust him. I think that’s really the whole thing with Robert Nkemdiche. And my answer is no, I don’t.

“And we can get into all the reasons, but you’re asking me my opinion. I have to hit on a first-round pick. You look over the history of the draft, and organizations that continually build through the draft and have success, they don’t miss on very many first-round picks. So you have to go into it with the mentality that you’re going to hit.

“And yes, it’s enticing. And I certainly think there are some teams — you look at Seattle late in the first, Arizona late in the first, they’re teams that, traditionally, have taken chances on guys that have some character baggage and backgrounds. And if they wind up doing it, who knows? You can hit.

“But I think there’s enough risk there that I would want to wait, probably, at least until the second round before I drafted him and, in all likelihood, I’m putting him in a position on my board where I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be available.”

That sounds like what the Detroit Lions are doing. Last week Lions general manager Bob Quinn told the Detroit Free Press that Nkemdiche is indeed a “red flag.”

“If they have a red flag — and that’s not what we use on our draft card, that’s just a generic term that we spoke about, I think it was at the combine,” Quinn said. “That’s just things that we have to consider the value of the player compared to the risk involved in taking him. So it’s not like these guys are off the board. You just got to manage the risk and the reward of taking a guy like that.

“That’s really one of the last things that we do in our process, is eliminating guys from the board for those off-the-field concerns. So we’re actually having meetings about that in the next couple of days. ... There will be a fair number of guys that we will not consider for character concerns and off-the-field reasons.”

Nkemdiche might be spending the days leading up to the NFL draft this week sweating over which teams think that way about him, which teams don’t and how much money and opportunity he may have cost himself with his decisions off the field.

“I’ve just got to wait and see,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to make teams believe me and believe the person I truly am. I made a mistake as a 21-year old. I’ve just got to keep moving forward and hopefully they believe me and I can do what I have to do on Sunday to make them see my athleticism.”

Multiple times under Schneider and Carroll, such drive back from personal adversity has convinced the Seahawks when they’ve considered top “red-flag” prospects.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

NFL draft

Thursday: Round 1, 5 p.m.

Friday: Rounds 2-3, 4 p.m.

Saturday: Rounds 4-7, 9 a.m.

TV: ESPN/ESPN2 and NFL Network.

Seahawks: Seattle has nine draft picks — No. 26 in the first round, along with one choice in the second round, two in the third, one in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh.

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