Will a former Arizona Cardinals draft bust parlay his latest opportunity into an NFL comeback?

Former Arizona Cardinals first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche is getting yet another chance to play professional football, this time at the UFL level.
Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals / Norm Hall/GettyImages

When the Arizona Cardinals drafted Robert Nkemdiche in 2016, they thought they were getting a cornerstone on defense. But the 29th overall pick was never a force during his college days at Mississippi, totaling just 81 career tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss, and 6.0 sacks. However, former general manager Steve Keim took the underperforming Nkemdiche anyway, and the results were rather disastrous. 

Nkemdiche played for the Cardinals for three seasons, recording just 4.5 sacks for the team in that span. By contrast, 2023 second-rounder BJ Ojulari logged 4.0 sacks in his rookie season alone, so it’s easy to see why Nkemdiche was such a disappointment. He also had just 44 combined tackles in 27 games and six starts, 10 tackles for loss, and 10 quarterback hits when he played in Glendale.

The highlight of his career with “Big Red” occurred in 2017 when he scored a defensive touchdown off of a fumble recovery in Week 16 during a 23-0 win over the New York Giants. Next to that and a handful of other big plays, Nkemdiche was nothing more than a pedestrian player who ended up making stops in Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco. 

Former Arizona Cardinals draft bust getting another chance in pro football

Nkemdiche signed with the USFL’s Michigan Panthers for the 2023 season, but he never played in a game and he ended up spending the year with the Jacksonville Sharks of the Indoor Football League (IFL). Now, he’s once again getting a chance to play pro football and perhaps parlay that opportunity into a chance at ultimately returning to the NFL, having signed with the UFL’s DC Defenders

It won’t be an easy outing for Nkemdiche, as most players in his situation never return to the league. He will also be 30 shortly after the 2024 NFL Season commences, and at this point, most teams are uninterested in trying to salvage such disappointing talents whose prime years are either ending or have already come to a close. 

But for as long as Nkemdiche remains on a pro football roster, he always has a chance to return to the NFL, and that’s better than having no chance at all. We’ll see if this former Arizona Cardinals draft bust has it in him to stick around DC, produce, and catch the eye of an NFL executive. 


(Statistics provided by College-Football=Reference and Pro-Football-Reference)