Measureables and talent weren't in question for defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche as he was coming out of Mississippi. Those attributes would have had him go early in Thursday's NFL draft – top 10 maybe, or even top five for some.
But Nkemdiche knew he was going to go later in the first round because of a December incident in which he fell out of a fourth-floor hotel window, leaving questions about him off the field – which is why the Cardinals met with him multiple times this spring before being convinced he was too good to pass on 29th overall.
"We spent more time with him personally than anyone else in this draft process," General Manager Steve Keim said.
There were visits at the Scouting combine, visits to Ole Miss, phone calls, a trip to Arizona for Nkemdiche and a meeting in Los Angeles this week with Keim and team president Michael Bidwill. Nkemdiche also met with safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose ability to overcome his own issues in college is a big reason Keim is willing to give second chances to some players coming out in the draft.
That was enough to convince the Cardinals, who still had Nkemdiche's "football character" grade very high despite his misstep.
Nkemdiche has said he was drunk when he fell out of the fourth-floor hotel window. Marijuana was found in the room. Among the other people in the room was Ole Miss teammate Laremy Tunsil, a tackle who fell to the 13th overall pick Thursday night in part because of concerns about Tunsil's own off-field issues.
"That wasn't anything that reflected who I am," Nkemdiche said. "That was a true accident. It was a blunder and it's not who I am. Over time they will see that, I am a great person, I'm a great dude and I was a perfect pick for them."
Keim acknowledged the time spent with Nkemdiche changed the Cardinals' perception. Seeing the player as remorseful made
"We feel like that's in the rear-view mirror," Keim said.
Nkemdiche has acknowledged he has been "lazy" at times finishing plays and he has undergone criticism for not being more productive. But at 6-foot-4 and 296 pounds, Nkdemdiche is another versatile piece for the Cardinals to use along the defensive line. He will fit into a rotation that already has veterans Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker along with younger pieces like Rodney Gunter and Ed Stinson.
Campbell and Rucker are both going into the final year of their respective contracts. Keim said Nkemdiche's presence does not impact Campbell's situation. Coach Bruce Arians said Nkemdiche can play all three spots in the base 3-4, and should be able to provide a nice push inside in four-man lines.
"He's been effective everywhere," Arians said. "He's a nightmare for a guard or center. And he can work a tackle off the edge.
"I like our group of pass rushers right now tremendously."
The Cardinals did consider trading their pick, but Nkemdiche was too good to pass up, especially once they
got to know him. Nkemdiche said he was passionate about the game, something Keim said was the same thing he heard from Nkemdiche's past coaches in high school and college.
Nkemdiche recently said he would love to have a pet panther, another reason to compare him to former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Arians can see similarities.
"Little bit bigger, little bit stronger, and a little bit faster," Arians said. "But a lot like Darnell."
Dockett came to the Cardinals hungry to prove to all he was worthy of going higher than the third-round pick he was. Nkemdiche also said he is looking to prove something, although it has more to do with proving the Cardinals made the right decision.
"I'm everything the Cardinals want and I'm everything the Cardinals need," Nkemdiche said. "I can't wait to show them the fire I have in me."
Neither Keim nor Arians are concerned that won't happen.
"I think the culture of our locker room speaks for itself," Arians said. "He will fit our culture."
Images of Cardinals first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche, a defensive tackle from Mississippi