Klement / USA TODAY Sports Images

Pittsburgh Steelers look to understand immensely talented Ole Miss d-lineman

There's perhaps a good explanation for Nkemdiche's troubles. Steelers check him out amid large group that includes three more talented safeties.

No one can say the Pittsburgh Steelers don't put in their due diligence.

Talented bad boy Robert Nkemdiche was their headline visitor Monday among eight college prospects.

Those eight include superstar safety Karl Joseph, as well as two other safeties -- Sean Davis and Justin Simmons -- who are physical freaks in their own right.

Also visiting were mid-round cornerbacks Cyrus Jones and Ken Crawley, mid-round WR Pharoh Cooper and late-round OLB/DE Dadi Nicolas.

Since SteelCityInsider.net has already published features on Joseph and Davis, the focus today is on Nkemdiche (kim-DEECH-ee), the mystery man from Ole Miss.

Nkemdiche was considered THE No. 1 football recruit in the country when he chose Ole Miss, and he started right away. In three seasons, Nkemdiche flashed his immense talent but couldn't produce any more than six sacks and 16 tackles-for-loss as an interior defensive lineman.

Nkemdiche was suspended from this past Sugar Bowl after he fell 15 feet off a balcony of a hotel and landed on a bush. He said he was drunk, and was arrested for possession of marijuana. At the NFL Combine, he told reporters that another teammate, potential No. 1 pick Laremy Tunsil, was in the room with him.

At the combine, Nkemdiche (6-3 1/2, 294) ran a 4.87 40 with a vertical jump of 35 inches and 28 bench reps. Since then, he's been vilified in print.

"He's really a different kid," an anonymous scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "He may scare some people. He's strange strange."

The New York Post ran the headline "Why terrified NFL teams are crosssing off 'Top-5' draft stud" over a Bart Hubbuch story.

Nolan Nawrocki, in his NFL Draft 2016 Preview, quoted an anonymous scout who may have supplied an important explanation.

"He is an eccentric (person). He is weird," said the scout. "I don't think he is a bad kid. His brother is a big-time (mess) with two arrests and a lot of issues, but he idolizes him and it drags him down. Wherever big bro goes, little bro follows. That's how Mississippi got him there. They signed the big brother knowing the younger brother was coming up."

The brothers -- Denzel and then high-school senior Robert -- were sued after allegedly being involved in a vicious beating at a frat party. Denzel was later kicked off the team after being rushed "unresponsive" to the hospital for an unspecified reason.

Perhaps the Steelers are attempting to gauge how Nkemdiche will respond to being so far away from his older brother.

The Steelers, of course, brought in several serious athletes, including Joseph, the 5-10, 205-pound playmaker from WVU who's been compared to Earl Thomas, Bob Sanders and even Troy Polamalu.

Joseph would be a lead-pipe lock of a first-round pick if not for the torn ACL he suffered last October when he was leading the nation with five interceptions. Joseph said his rehab is on track and he'll be ready to play at the start of training camp.

Davis (6-1, 201) is an athletic freak with the caliber of combine numbers that led the Steelers to pursue similarly athletic safeties Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas.

Davis ran a 4.46 40 with 21 bench reps, a 37 1/2 vertical and eye-popping agility times of 3.97 in the short shuttle and 6.64 in the three-cone. He was moved to cornerback last season at Maryland after excelling as a hard-hitting coverage safety. He's expected to be drafted in the second round.

Speaking of eye-popping agility times, the third visiting safety, Simmons (6-2 3/8, 202) of Boston College, had the fastest short-shuttle time, 3.85, of any athlete at the combine. His time of 6.58 in the 3-cone topped all defensive backs. He also recorded a vertical jump of 40 inches.

But Simmons' 40 time of 4.61 tells scouts that he's more quick than fast, and that's verified on tape as a free safety. Simmons did intercept five passes (eight career) last season and forced two fumbles (four career) and is an intriguing third-round prospect.

In Jones (5-9 7/8, 197, 4.46) of Alabama, the Steelers are looking at a third-round prospect with impressive enough punt-return skills (12.5 avg.) to perhaps alter Mike Tomlin's philosophy of using only offensive players to return kicks.

Jones is at his best in off coverage, as a cover-3 corner, and has seven career interceptions as a three-year starter. He's said to be smart, competitive and savvy, and all of that showed throughout Alabama's championship run last season.

Crawley (6-0 3/8, 187, 4.43) was a four-year starter at Colorado but intercepted only three passes. Some analysts consider him to be a fourth-round prospect while others believe he'll be undrafted due to the number of big plays he's allowed and the high number of flags he's drawn.

Cooper (5-11 1/8, 203) is a rare offensive visitor as the Steelers brought in South Carolina's go-to receiver. Cooper caught 135 passes (15.6 yards per catch) the last two seasons. He's also a punt returner, but averaged only 4.7 yards per each of his 36 chances.

Cooper has outstanding personal and football character, is a top-notch blocker, and is considered smart and versatile because of his skills as a runner (and wildcat QB). But he's not too fast or explosive and could go anywhere between the third and sixth rounds. The Steelers will apparently be there to scoop him up if he falls too far.

Nicolas (6-2 7/8, 235) of Virginia Tech may last until the seventh round as well, in spite of an upside that comes with having a 41-inch vertical jump, a 4.74 40 and a 7.04 3-cone time. He also played much of last season with a broken hand and sprained knee.

But Nicolas is very raw. As an interior lineman playing mainly out of a four-point stance, he compiled 17 sacks and 35.5 tackles-for-loss in four seasons.



Steel City Insider Top Stories