SI 50, Nos. 30–29: Jason Spriggs and Robert Nkemdiche

One prospect is an athletic marvel who could develop into a franchise left tackle. The other is a potentially elite defensive playmaker with significant off-field concerns to address.
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With the 2016 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.

The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and explain why they’re slotted where they are. As we continue through the first round, it’s time to take a closer look at an offensive tackle with all the right moves (if not all the right strength) and a defensive lineman who could be truly special if he cleans up his act.

• The SI 50 so far: 50–48 | 47–45 | 44–42 | 41–39​ | 38–36 | 35–33 | 32–31

30. Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Height: 6' 6" Weight: 301

Bio: A tackle, defensive end and long-snapper in high school, Spriggs set a Hoosiers record by starting all 12 games as a freshman in 2012, allowing just two sacks while leading the team with 80 knockdowns. Through his collegiate career, he bulked up and remained remarkably consistent, allowing just seven sacks in four years and 47 starts. He showed estimable resistance even when facing outstanding pass rushers like Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun and Ohio State’s Joey Bosa.

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Athleticism and consistency—which he showed off at the NFL scouting combine—are Spriggs’s hallmarks. In Indianapolis, he talked about how the “black stain of injury” kept him from just one game at Indiana, and insisted that despite the spread-style scheme in which he played, he’s got the attributes for any NFL team. That may be, but for all his athletic prowess, Spriggs will need to bulk up just a bit before that’s possible. 

Strengths: Athletic to a fault—Spriggs had the best 40-yard dash (4.87) and 20-yard split (2.90) of any tackle at the scouting combine. Blocks with a wide base, accentuated by the fact that he has really good feet to re-direct to his blocking target and avoids getting off-step and out of place as a result. Excels at tackle pulls and zone concepts. His kick-slide is something that any NFL team should be happy to work with—his arc footwork has evolved impressively and Spriggs has the potential to be top-tier in this area. Good technician who gets his hands inside a defender’s numbers and pushes quickly out of the arc. Uses his long arms to stab and punch and keep defenders at bay. Gets in position off the snap with a step, has excellent lateral movement and gets downfield in a hurry. Has the movement skills to perform chips very well—Spriggs can block at the line and get to the second level for another block with impressive quickness. Nice accuracy when attacking second level defenders; Spriggs exhibits good body control on the move. Mirrors very well in pass pro to prevent rushers from slipping to either edge of his area. Seals the edge persistently on run plays. 

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Weaknesses: Concerns about Spriggs’s play strength are legitimate—he gets rocked back far too frequently. Not a mauler at all. Redirection skills are a necessary counter to this liability. Limited push strength in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Can be foiled inside and around the edge by quicker pass rushers. Needs to trust his field vision more consistently, and he’s too aggressive at times in run-blocking and run-action. Adequate inside pincher on power running plays. Will most likely require improvement in musculature and functional strength (especially in his upper body) to reach his full NFL potential.

Conclusion: In an NFL where the quarterback is king, Spriggs will get a lot of looks for his pass-protection ability, as well as his underrated knack for knockdown blocks. He’s more than just a combine wonder—Spriggs will be a starting NFL left tackle eventually. The team that selects Spriggs will have to take time with him to fill him out a bit more, but the odds are good that said team will be rewarded with a franchise blind-side protector, and that’s always worth the investment if the potential is really there. In Spriggs’s case, it certainly is.

Pro Comparison: Nate Solder, Patriots (first round, 2011, Colorado)

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29. Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
Height: 6' 3" Weight: 294

Bio:The top defensive end prospect in the nation out of high school, Nkemdiche got an early start to greatness at the college level, starting 10 games for the Rebels as a true freshman and amassing six tackles for loss, a sack and 28 total tackles. He moved from end to tackle for his sophomore and junior seasons, putting up 53 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and five sacks total in 2014 and ’15.

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​Nkemdiche’s relative lack of black-type stats (sacks, primarily) have raised concerns that can be addressed by tape study to a point, but his primary obstacle as a prospect is the incident last December in which he fell 15 feet to the ground at an Atlanta hotel. Seven marijuana cigarettes were found in Nkemdiche’s room and attributed to his possession, though Nkemdiche said at the combine that he had only imbibed alcohol before the incident. He was suspended by the team for the Sugar Bowl, which would have been the last game of his collegiate career. According to a recent article by Robert Klemko of The MMQB, there’s concern throughout the league that Nkemdiche is running with people who may not have his best interests at heart.

“I told them the truth,” Nkemdiche said at the combine when asked what he told NFL teams about the incident. “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 ... 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.”

If that’s the case, Nkemdiche should be seen as a top-15 talent—but between his off-field past and occasional penchant for not finishing plays on the field, he’s going to drop to a certain degree.

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​​Strengths: Hyper-aggressive gap-splitter who’s always looking to pursue, and brings an estimable leverage pop off the snap. Will occasionally time a gap move right off the snap and force an offense to deal with him on the quick. Has the base upper-body strength to deal with larger inside blockers and double teams from both the one-tech and three-tech positions. Outstanding movement skills from one gap to the next, and he brings his power with him. Has the agility to still play strong-side end in a pinch. Burrows under the pads of blockers and persistently moves them back. Practices ability to slip off blocks to either side, re-direct and get into the backfield. Will extend to make tackles out of his area. Has an embryonic over move, and could be really devastating with a full array of hand moves. Could be a game-changer on twists and stunts. For all the (legitimate) talk about his relative lack of sack production, Nkemdiche rarely gets flat-out beaten—he’s a constant battler. Legitimate threat to disrupt at every gap. Scored two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in 2015.

Weaknesses: Relatively short arms limit Nkemdiche’s ability to deliver the first punch and allow blockers into his kitchen too often; he has to get a stout two-handed grip to compensate. Wrestles too often and needs to stack and shed with more consistency. Lack of sack production over his college career is a concern, but less so when you watch his tape and realize how often he was the opposing offense’s primary point of focus. That said, and as he admitted at the combine, Nkemdiche didn’t always finish plays, and his production was affected. Tweener body may limit him to a 4–3 base scheme—his lack of height gives him a considerable leverage advantage, but could shoot him down the boards of many 3–4 teams. Off-field concerns are entirely legitimate and will take a lot of vetting. There are also questions about how well he’ll take hard coaching.

Conclusion: From a raw football perspective, there’s absolutely no question that Robert Nkemdiche could be an elite defensive player at the professional level if he keeps his act together, gets a few more pass-rush moves, lands in the right scheme and gets the right kind of coaching. Those are a lot of ifs for any player who will most likely go in the first round, but it speaks to his potential that someone will take him on the first day. Whether he’s a bargain or a bust is entirely up to him.

Pro Comparison: Dominique Easley, Patriots (first round, 2014, Florida)