When I first heard of University of Mississippi head coach Hugh Freeze’s plan to employ prized recruit Robert Nkemdiche predominantly at edge-rusher, I immediately thought that plan would retard Nkemdiche’s development.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as though I believed he would be ineffective at the position — as his freshman season dispelled that notion — it’s just that using his unique blend of skills on the inside could create one of the most dominant players of this generation.

Well, now that I’ve said my prayers, and I have taken my vitamins, it seems as though Coach Freeze has finally had a change of heart.

And now, voilà, a star is born…or reborn, for that matter!

The Ole Miss defense is clearly one of the most talented units in the entire country, so having an inside presence the likes of Nkemdiche just puts it over the top. We may very well be looking at the premier defense in the country.

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I had the pleasure of watching Robert and his older brother Denzel throughout their prep tenure at Grayson high school here in suburban Atlanta. Actually, their high school developed a chief rivalry with mine’s that spawned two entertaining battle rap-videos. One of which had the younger Nkemdiche in the video.

Robert Nkemdiche appearing in Grayson’s “Brookwood Where You At?”

The moment Robert stepped on the field he stood out as a man amongst boys. He literally looked as if a five-year pro was summoned to lay punishment on high school football players — especially those who had the nerve to touch the football during a tilt.

Nkemdiche actually played running back, along with his normal defensive line position, and was very effective at both. It seemed as though even at nearly 300 pounds — 6’5″, 292 pounds to be exact — he could play any position along the front seven (and backfield).

And although he was virtually unstoppable as a defensive end, it was clear that lining up inside is when he really took it to the next level.


Here we see Nkemdiche lined up at the o-technique. Although this is not an ideal alignment for him, he shows off his versatility by being able to make a play at a position where “space eaters” are normally found.

His off-the-ball quickness was very apparent even at a position where strength is the norm. He hits the center with an arm-over technique — quickly rendering him helpless — and converts speed to power on the assisting guards.

He then proceeded to latch on to the QB, taking him for a quick joyride then slamming him aggressively to the grass; he pretty much used the young man as human fertilizer.

Some odd-front schemes — such as the one run by New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan — utilize quicker nose tackles in the 290-pound range (e.g. Jason Hatcher and Jeremiah Ratliff). But as great of athletes as those two players are, neither are the same caliber of Nkemdiche.

Inside/Out Theory

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s even-front scheme — a 4-2-based alignment — is not necessarily the ideal defense for a player like Nkemdiche. That’s not to say that he won’t flat-out dominate, because he will, it’s merely shedding light that a 3-4-based defense would be the ideal fit for this uber-athletic monster.

At this point in his career Nkemdiche’s best attribute is his strength. His power is like that of a baby cub. He may be young, but he’s more than capable of causing complete destruction off of sheer strength. This why the 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4-based scheme would suit Nkemdiche best.

We should liken Nkemdiche’s skill set to that of a young J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. At 6’5″, 289 pounds, Watt is the perfect blend of size, athleticism and technique. He’s too quick for guards, and he’s much too powerful for most tackles.

The Texans’ defense, at least under former coordinator Wade Phillips, did a great job of lining Watt up all over the formation to create one-on-one matchups. As a natural one-gap penetrator, much like Nkemdiche, playing Watt in an inside gap (3-technique) is the most ideal.

Playing that position pretty much ensures that Watt plays the run on the way to the pass. But playing him over the tackle at a 5-technique allows him to use his natural instinct to either two-gap or slant into a gap.

Nkemdiche (5T)

Here is Nkemdiche lined up at a 5-technique. His ability to play the run is best utilized inside where he can control the between-the-tackles run game. Additionally, lined up over a player lets him to use his long reach to stack and shed a lineman.

His hand quickness allows him to get under the shoulder pads of a lineman and stand him up. If a play is going outside the tackle it allows him to re-adjust and help set the edge.


Case in point: Here we see Nkemdiche abusing a lineman all kinds of ways. First he beats him to the punch, so to speak, by getting his arms extended and inside his shoulder pads. And for a man his size, he usually plays with great leverage.

He then proceeds to stand him up like a mannequin and dispose of him. And once he has the ball-carrier in his sight, he stones him and sends an emphatic message in the process.

“It’s a big difference. People don’t know how it is learning one whole playbook from the day you stepped in until mid-year and then having to alter that,” Nkemdiche said at Ole Miss’ campus media day (h/t to Parrish Alford of SunHerald.com). “My head was spinning. Now I’ve calmed down. I know my position, and I know I can dominate at the position.”


Here Nkemdiche is lined up at a 3-technique; he slants back into the A-gap effectively blowing up the meat of the running play. And what is a testament to one his greatest attributes, relentlessness pursuit, he’s tripped up but somehow managed to regain his balance to make the play.

This kid is beyond special.


Nkemdiche had a very productive freshman season: 34 tackles, two sacks and two pass deflections (despite missing a couple of games due to injury). Most pundits were so fixated on him being the next Jadeveon Clowney (recent No. 1-overall pick of the Houston Texans) that it made his debut seem somewhat disappointing.

The fact is Clowney is a much different player than Nkemdiche. He’s an up-field penetrator that’s quicker than even some receivers off the snap; he’s a true edge-player. Nkemdiche is extremely quick for his size, but in the grand scheme of things he isn’t as quick as some of the better defensive ends/outside linebackers in the game (e.g. Von Miller of the Denver Broncos).

But he’s every bit as quick as some of the most disruptive interior players: Muhammad Wilkerson of the New York Jets (6’4″, 315 lbs – 10.5 sacks ); Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints (6’4″, 287 lbs – 12.5 sacks); and the aforementioned Watt (10.5 sacks).

In this day and age of instant gratification, Nkemdiche is going to eventually have to produce sacks like his future peers. A permanent move inside will undoubtedly be his fastest way to achieving that feat — which is not lost on Coach Freeze.

“He’s at about 295 pounds,” Freeze told ESPN’s Ivan Maisel in the latter’s podcast (h/t to OleMissSports.com).

“He fluctuates from 295-305 pounds. I have never seen a 295-pound man built like him. He has a six pack at 295 pounds. He’s a special athlete, and we’re excited. That’s where he belongs long-term for his NFL career, if he stays healthy. We think he can be dominant inside. We will go to some 3-4 stuff, too, where he moves out some, but he will primarily be an inside guy.”

That’s bad news for SEC offenses…