ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said Monday he thinks Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche could be a perfect fit for the Seattle Seahawks in the first round.
The Seahawks have shown no reluctance during the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era to draft a player viewed as a risk, either for on- or off-field reasons.
And in the view of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., the man who helped popularize the term “mock draft,’’ the Seahawks could take a leap of faith again this season.
Kiper, during a conference call Monday to preview this week’s NFL combine in Indianapolis, said he thinks the Seahawks could pick Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche if he’s available when they pick at No. 26 in the first round of the NFL draft. The draft is April 28-30 in Chicago.
Nkemdiche will be among the players under heavy scrutiny at the combine. He was suspended for Ole Miss’ Sugar Bowl game after he fell about 15 feet from a hotel window in Atlanta. Police found marijuana cigarettes in his hotel room and charged him with possession. He suffered just minor injuries.
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The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Nkemdiche, considered by many the top recruit in the high-school class of 2013, then decided to declare early for the draft.
The off-field concerns have led to draft analysts speculating that he could fall out of the top half of the first round and be available for a team such as the Seahawks.
“I just thought that would be a real nice fit for him based on the fact that Seattle could kind of roll the dice and feel like, ‘Hey we’re getting a guy that on most boards would have been in the top five to 10 in the middle of the year, and now here he is at pick number 26,’ ” Kiper said, explaining why he had the Seahawks picking Nkemdiche in his latest mock draft.
“ … I thought Robert Nkemdiche, if he were there, would be a Pete Carroll/John Schneider type of pick.’’
Seahawks fans might clamor instead for the team to take an offensive lineman.
But Kiper reiterated that the depth and talent available on the defensive line this year could be unparalleled in recent draft history and too much for teams to ignore regardless of need.
“It’s probably the best defensive-line group I’ve ever seen in my 40 years of doing this,’’ Kiper said. “(This is) as good and deep of a defensive-tackle and defensive-line group as you can find.’’
And though offensive line might seem a more obvious need for the Seahawks, defensive line could be a big one as well, depending on what shakes out in free agency.
The Seahawks’ starting defensive tackles this season, Brandon Mebane and Athyba Rubin, are unrestricted free agents. There has been much speculation that the Seahawks could part with Mebane, who turned 31 last month, try to retain Rubin and replace Mebane in the draft.
The Seahawks also seem likely to lose linebacker/rush end Bruce Irvin, and could also draft an end. Kiper mentioned Georgia’s Leonard Floyd and Boise State’s Kamalei Correa as players who could be available at No. 26. Kiper also said if the Seahawks go with an offensive lineman, the logical pick would be Cody Whitehair of Kansas State.
Whitehair is generally listed as a guard. But Kiper said he could play tackle or center in the NFL as well, adding, “He gives you tremendous versatility, and he’s ready to play in the NFL right now.”
The Seahawks also used their first pick in 2015 on a controversial defensive lineman — end Frank Clark of Michigan. He was drafted in the second round after being dismissed from the team in November following an arrest related to domestic violence. Irvin also was considered a reach when taken with the 15th pick in 2012, having also had some legal issues.
Nkemdiche can go a long way toward altering his current story line with a good performance at the combine, both in testing and in interviews with team officials and the media. He had just seven sacks in 35 college games, which also causes some scouts to wonder if he is truly deserving of being a high first-round pick.
But Kiper has said such stats often can be misleading and wrote last week: “He’s a top-10 talent but could see his stock slip if teams don’t trust him, especially in a draft that is loaded with future impact starters on the defensive line.”
Some are likening Nkemdiche’s situation entering the combine to that of former Washington star Marcus Peters last year. Peters arrived in Indianapolis last February carrying a trail of red flags following his dismissal at UW.
Many have credited Peters for the way he handled himself at the combine with making teams feel more comfortable about selecting him.
Peters was taken No. 18 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a Pro Bowler and the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Nkemdiche hopes to follow suit, which could mean he could be gone when Seahawks picks at No. 26.
Regardless, Kiper said if the Seahawks decide a defensive tackle is what they want, they should have no trouble finding one in the draft this year.
“There are 10-12 interior defensive linemen who could get a first-round grade,’’ Kiper said. “The position this year is so good overall.’’