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Player Spotlight: Noah Spence

A detailed look at Noah Spence's fantasy prospects for 2016.

BUCCANEER GAMBIT

There are some teams in the NFL that prefer to play it safe. There are others that prefer to push limits and to take risks. Sometimes, it’s a risk that would be perceived as small by the casual fan, such as heading into the season with less depth at one position in order to keep a coveted developmental player at another position from being sniped off the practice squad.

Other times, it’s a larger risk, such as using a premium NFL Draft pick to select a very talented player with “character issues.” As of late, the Buccaneers seem to fall into that latter category. In the 2015 NFL Draft, they selected the controversial Jameis Winston with the number one overall pick. Though immeasurably gifted as a signal caller, Winston was downgraded by some scouts because of a shoplifting incident, an alleged sexual assault, and his heavy involvement in the nightclub scene. In 2016, Tampa Bay used the eighth pick of the second round to select Noah Spence. Like Winston, Spence is supremely talented at his position, but has some baggage of which to be wary.

NOTORIOUS NOAH

As alluded to before, Spence had issues in college that gave teams pause when considering him in the Draft. At Ohio State, Spence was kicked off the team for two failed drug tests. He underwent treatment for Ecstasy addiction in 2014. After transferring to Eastern Kentucky University for the 2015 season, Spence also had an incident where he tried to throw a beer bottle into a trash can and missed, shattering the bottle. A nearby police officer saw it and arrested Spence on charges of alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct. The charges were later expunged from his record after Spence performed community service.

On the field, there are also a few things to dislike about Spence. He is not as rangy or as tall as a prototypical defensive end, meaning that his reach is decreased and his vision into the backfield is limited. He needs work as a run defender, because he sometimes gets washed upfield due to being too aggressively stuck in a pass rush mode. Also, his functional strength is lacking and blockers sometimes have an easy time moving him or neutralizing him by getting into his frame. Neither does he display “heavy hands” when engaging blockers. He has plenty of speed, but has trouble converting his speed to power when taking on a blocker.

“INDISPENCEABLE”

All that being said, Spence has many admirable traits, especially as a pass rusher. He possesses a great motor and doesn’t seem to fatigue as the game goes on. He’s a good fit in Tampa’s 4-3 scheme, where they will ask him to play with his hand in the dirt. However, he does have the versatility to play standing up if needed. Spence’s burst off the snap is second-to-none. He takes good angles to the ball and does not waste his steps. He displays a fantastic speed and leverage combination to bend the edge.

Spence also seems to have learned from his experience with substance abuse. Speaking about his recovery, Spence said:

"I just want to show the world that I am a better person than when I left Ohio State,” he said. "I used to say to my dad that everybody that's real good in the NFL always seems like they have a story and I don't have one. I guess now this is my story. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and my situation has definitely made me stronger. I sit back and think about my life before I do anything. Before, everything that I did was off impulse. I'd do anything someone told me that I couldn't do. 'I can do it!' I was young, dumb and immature. This situation has made me grow up fast. I feel like it's all part of God's plan.”

POSITIVES

  • Spence may be the best pure pass rusher of the 2016 class

  • Spence landed in a good spot in Tampa. The Buccaneers will use him as a 4-3 end, just as he was in college.

  • Long-term, Spence has the requisite tools to be a sack master in the NFL.

NEGATIVES

  • Spence has a history of substance abuse. A relapse could threaten his NFL career.

  • With Robert Ayers and William Gholston on the roster, Spence probably won’t be in a full-time role in year one. This limits his immediate impact for IDP.

  • Spence won’t rack up the tackles, making him much more valuable in sack heavy formats.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are definitely some risks with Spence, but he seems committed to his recovery. He has not had a positive drug test since 2014. Spence is being picked well behind Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner in IDP rookie drafts. Though Spence will not have the appeal in tackle-heavy or balanced leagues, in a sack-heavy league, he is an undervalued option. In a sack-heavy dynasty league with a mixed rookie player pool, feel comfortable taking Spence in the early third round.

2016 PROJECTIONS

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

20

7

3

1

1

1

0

0

54.75

AARON RUDNICKI'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

22

8

5

1

1

1

0

0

68.50

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Lance Zierlein takes an optimistic view of Spence in his NFL.com Draft Prospect Profile:

His issues are well-­documented, but his recovery and turnaround is what has NFL teams excited. Spence has been accountable for his actions and worked just as hard off the field as he has on the field to change his life and attack his problems. His inability to hold the point of attack combined with his ability to rush the passer make him a logical choice as a 3-­4 rush linebacker. The speed of the game may take a year or two to get used to, but Spence should become a starter early in his career.

Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar notes the following negatives to Spence’s game in his SI50 scouting report of Spence:

Spence’s game is mostly about speed and power at this point as opposed to technique, and that may leave him open to being eaten up in the NFL for a while. Taller, wider tackles can rag-doll him too easily at times. He desperately needs a credible inside counter to make the most of his get-off at the snap—when he’s boxed out of the arc, he tends to stay there. Has the strength to use rip and swim moves very well, and has the agility to work a spin move into his repertoire, but he’s not there yet. Plays frantically at times, allowing opponents to use his momentum against him. May be too stiff in the hips to create a real bend around the edge. Can drop into coverage, but it’s not a strength at this point. Play strength can be hit-and-miss against tackles with better feet who can mirror him around the pocket—arm length (33 inches) leaves him at a disadvantage, and has him letting blockers into his body too often.