The Great Mississippi Debate (part 2): Chris Jones vs. Robert Nkemdiche
Earlier this week The Great Mississippi Debate series premiered with a comparison of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. The series compares one player from Ole Miss and one player from Mississippi State to determine who is the best in the Magnolia State entering the 2014 season.
This second installment in the series features a comparison of star defensive linemen Chris Jones (MSU) and Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss).
Robert Nkemdiche and Chris Jones had nearly indistinguishable freshman seasons in 2013 for Ole Miss and Mississipppi State, respectively.
Both were recruited as highly coveted top-50 prospects. Both began the year as defensive ends before eventually moving inside to play tackle. Both worked their way into their team’s starting lineup as freshmen, and both earned plenty of postseason recognition from the likes of Phil Steele, the Associated Press and the SEC’s coaches.
Their stats were almost identical by season’s end:
- Nkemdiche: 34 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks
- Jones: 32 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Needless to say, Jones and Nkemdiche will face even greater expectations as sophomores this season. It remains unclear whether either will move back outside to defensive end, but it is a virtual lock both will be starting for their respective teams come Week 1.
Let’s see how the two players compare heading into their second year in the SEC West:
Stopping the run
If these two players are lined up at tackle, Jones is the better run stopper. However, if they’re lined up at defensive end this season, the edge swings back in favor of Nkemdiche. Where these two beasts play on the line in 2014 will have a big impact on how their skill sets translate onto the field, and stopping the run is only a microcosm of that fact.
Jones is simply bigger than Nkemdiche, and when it comes to clogging up the middle and taking on two blockers to free up a linebacker to make a tackle, he’s the better choice. At 6-foot-5 and nearly 310 pounds Jones occupies a lot of space in the middle of the Bulldogs’ defense, making running the ball between the hash marks that much more difficult.
Nkemdiche, meanwhile, has a smaller frame (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) but is a much more versatile athlete than Jones. The Ole Miss star has the ability to defend outside running plays all the way to the sideline if needed, meaning his run-stopping abilities are maximized when he lines up at defensive end and can shed blockers quickly to make a play in space.
Nkemdiche admitted he was caught off guard when coaches moved him inside last season, and said he is confident in his understanding of the tackle position heading into 2014. He is pound-for-pound as strong as Jones, but his more slender frame makes taking on two blockers much more difficult in the run game.
Advantage: Chris Jones
Rushing the passer
Once again, the edge in this category will have a lot to do with where both players line up this season, but it’s safe to say both Nkemdiche and Jones are dangerous pass rushers wherever they are on the field.
Nkemdiche may be a bit quicker off the ball getting around defenders. Jones may be slightly more formidable when bull-rushing a blocker head-on. Either way, both players possess an incredible combination of power and footwork that will allow them to get to the passer no matter where thy line up.
Room for growth/upside
The most sensational part of the Jones-Nkemdiche debate is that both players still have at least two seasons remaining before reaching NFL eligibility. And because both players still have more college football left in front of them than they’ve put behind them in their careers, how well they continue to develop will ultimately determine who is better at the college level.
Jones’ future appears bright in Starkville, but Nkemdiche has the greater upside over the next two seasons. He possesses comparable strength despite weighing nearly 30 pounds less than Jones, and showed a slight edge in quickness in 2013 despite battling injuries throughout the season. Nkemdiche is still growing and his playing weight allows him the versatility to line up both inside and outside depending on where he would be most dangerous. If he can stay healthy for all of 2014, Nkemdiche has the opportunity to prove he is the most versatile, well-rounded defensive lineman in the Magnolia state.
Advantage: Robert Nkemdiche
Comparing these two players is truly like splitting hairs, but because Nkemdiche has both a greater upside and a more talented group of defensive linemen surrounding him, fans should expect his numbers to top Jones’ in most categories this season, including sacks and tackles for loss. Both players have a great chance to earn All-SEC honors at the end of the year, but when pressed to pick one player the choice in Nkemdiche.
Overall Advantage: Nkemdiche.