Ole Miss DL Robert Nkemdiche gave an eyebrow-raising press conference at the NFL combine Friday.
INDIANAPOLIS — The press conferences players conduct at the NFL combine are a risky thing to judge much of anything on.
The players are coached up to present themselves well, knowing they are selling themselves as much as anything else at maybe the most important time of their professional life. Johnny Manziel gave what was famously regarded as an overwhelmingly impressive press conference here two years ago.
All that said, everyone here was waiting to see how Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche would handle himself when he took to the podium Friday.
Nkemdiche is regarded as one of the real wild-cards in this class, viewed as being as physically talented as any player here but also littered with some massive question marks after an incident in December in which he fell about 15 feet from a hotel room balcony 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 incident, and the fact that some also have questioned whether Nkemdiche’s play matched his potential at Ole Miss, have had some projecting him to possibly be available when the Seahawks pick at No. 26. In his most recent mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Seattle taking him.
The combine press conference served as the first time he had met the media to address the incident, so it was an obvious focus of questioning.
How Nkemdiche handled his press conference was almost immediately a matter of social media debate, as he admitted being drunk at the time of the incident and also said that teammate Laremy Tunsil, the potential No. 1 pick in the entire draft, was with him at the time — something that no one appeared to have known.
Given the way NFL teams usually overlook these things, it may not have mattered much. But Nkemdiche’s answers Friday seemed to elicit even more questions than time allowed.
If you want to judge for yourself, here is some of the official transcript of his interview:
What are you telling teams about the Atlanta incident?: “I tell them the truth. 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 straightforward player. I’m never going to return to that. I’m just moving forward and embracing this moment.”
How do they respond that answer?: “They believe me. It’s the truth and it’s what I’m going to keep moving forward with. I’m going to stick to my story. That’s what it is. I’m going to keep moving forward, keep being in the moment and get ready to show out on Sunday.’’
Were you under the influence of anything in Atlanta?: “Yes. I was drinking. I was drunk.’’
Marijuana?: “No sir. No sir.’’
On getting questions from teams about it: “It’s understandable. Like I said, I told them the truth. That’s not the person I am. That’s not the morals I hold myself to, not the standards I hold myself to, and I’m going to keep moving forward and keep working, letting them understand the person that I am, the kind of person I truly am.’’
Have you changed?: “I have changed. I’ve lasered my focus to what’s important and kept away from things that can take football away from me and jeopardize my career because I love the game so much. I never want it to be taken away from me, and I know if I’m in situations like that it can be taken away from me. I’ve just cleaned up a little bit.’’
Are you concerned that you will slide in the draft?: “I’ve just got to wait and see. 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. Hopefully I will go as high as possible.’’
What’s your reaction if a team asks you about the difference in your talent and production on field?: “Of course. There are times I didn’t finish. I was lazy on some plays at times, but I told them I’m going to keep growing as a player. I’m going to keep learning how to finish and keep becoming more of a student of the game and just focus on being the best NFL player I can be.”
Were there any other teammates with you that night in Atlanta?: “Ummmm … yeah Laremy was there.’’
Can you give an example of character, how you pitch it to teams?: “I kind of tell them the truth because I don’t pitch anything. I don’t try to create an act because for the people that do know me as a person … that wasn’t me. That was rash. It was blunder. The people that know me know that’s not who I am. I don’t do those kind of things. The media’s done a tarnish to my name but I’ve just got to make them understand me as a person who I am. Just got to keep moving forward, just keep being positive and working hard.’’
What’s the status of the charge that came out of that?: “I had to pay some fines for it, but it’s still pending I think.’’
You said you didn’t finish some plays and were lazy at times. Why will that change when getting paid?: “Because I know what’s at stake and I know what I have to do as a player to be great in the NFL. I’m just going to keep focusing on the things I need to focus on as a player that I didn’t focus on so much in college and that I know I need to get better at.’’
You say you were drinking. It was a drug possession charge. How do you explain the inconsistency?: “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.”