NFL

Three Draft Prospects Battling Character Issue Perceptions

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While it may feel like the Denver Broncos just defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, the fact of  the matter is we’re nearly a month removed from the big game.

Before you know it, commissioner Roger Goodell will be announcing names at the NFL Draft in Chicago this April.

Having said that, there’s multiple prospects who have red-flags surrounding their brand. You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you have any extra baggage, teams will be gun shy to select you, especially early on.

Let’s take a look at some of the questionable character guys.

Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss – There’s no denying Nkemdiche’s combination of size, speed and athleticism. If not for his December incident, the freak athlete would’ve been considered near the top of the first round.

In Atlanta, Nkemdiche fell from a hotel due to being under the influence of alcohol.

As you could imagine, NFL teams have been questioning him about that night non-stop.

“I tell them the truth,” Nkemdiche explained. “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 straight-forward player. I’m never going to return to that. I’m just moving forward and embracing this moment.”

Aside from the Atlanta incident, many have questioned Nkemdiche’s competitive drive, often looking lazy at times. 

“There were times I didn’t finish. Times I was lazy on some plays,” Nkemdiche admitted.

At the combine, the 294-pounder ran a 4.87 40-yard dash and had a vertical leap of 35-inches.  Those were each great numbers for a man his size.  It’s unclear how much his off the field issues will affect his draft stock, but he did test well and in a league where getting after the opposing quarterback is paramount, it’s likely that a team with a perceived strong locker room will take a chance on the former Ole Miss Rebel in the first round.

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky – It seems like every year we have guys who have a history of drug issues.

“I failed two drug tests and they got me suspended,” Spence admitted.

Unlike Randy Gregory from a year ago, Spence was busted for ecstasy, not marijuana. After failing two drug tests, Spence was kicked off the Ohio State football team. As he looked for a new opportunity, Eastern Kentucky brought him in with open arms.

“I love my school. I love Eastern Kentucky,” Spence stressed. “They took me in after I was suspended and that means the world to me. I mean, whatever I can do to help them is good.”

However, Spence didn’t fare well in the combine, particularly in the 40-yard-dash. The 6-foot-2, 254 pounder clocked in at 4.80, which would’ve been good for a bigger defensive lineman, but expectations were much higher for a pass rusher of Spence’s abilities.

To his credit, Spence has been on the right path ever since his last failed drug test.

“It’s huge for me, especially with my drug tests and I’m still being drug tested to this day. It shows that I’ve grown from the situation and I’ve become a better person,” Spence said.

Compared to previous classes, this one doesn’t have great depth when it comes to pass rushers, so it’s still a very good chance Spence will land in the first round.

Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State – Unlike the guys before him, Connor Cook has more football related questions to answers.

Despite going 34-4 as a starter, which includes two Big Ten championships, many are questioning if Cook is the right guy to lead a NFL franchise.

During this whole process, Cook has been asked over and over again about the perception that he’s not leader.

After all, Cook wasn’t named as a team captain at Michigan State.

“It’s an understandable question: Why wasn’t he captain? I’ll just be completely honest with them,” Connor expressed. “We had a lot of leaders on that team, we had 22 seniors, I believe, we had the leadership council, like I said. If you want to go back and talk to any of my teammates and ask them if I was a great leader, they would say yes.”

Cook’s reputation took another turn after the infamous trophy exchange with former Heisman trophy winner Archie Griffin.

At first glance, it screams cockiness and arrogance.

Nonetheless, Cook wants the world to know it wasn’t his intent to come off as such that night.

“Yeah, I think that kind of got blown out of proportion, as well,” Connor claimed. “I was excited. I was a little nervous. I didn’t think I deserved the MVP, first and foremost. I was thinking about what I was going to say once I got the microphone, wanting to give it to my offensive line just for the way that they played throughout the entire game, especially the last drive. But it just happened real quick, I didn’t think anything of it. I remembered just checking my phone after the game and there were a lot of tweets and stuff, people were tagging me and things. I saw it, and it did look pretty bad. The first thing that I did was apologize on live television, on BTN, just saying obviously I didn’t mean to do it, I felt bad about it, and I was sorry. Then I called Archie Griffin that night and talked to him. I remember, he even said that he didn’t even realize what happened until after, when people hit him up. He didn’t think anything of it. Obviously, it did kind of look bad and I felt bad about it. But we won our football conference, we’re Big Ten champs. The last thing that’s going through my mind at that time is to try and disrespect someone, let alone a man like Archie Griffin.”

With quarterback being such a priority for a numerous of teams, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Cook go in the first round.  With that said, the interview part of the Combine is perhaps the most important and a quarterback is the CEO and face of a franchise.  Did Cook do enough to convince a team to make him the face of theirs?


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.