I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here.
Hardcore followers of college football do not need the following recap of Spence, but for the benefit of the rest of the audience, it goes like this: Noah was the first 5-star recruit that Urban Meyer landed when he went to Ohio State and almost instantly, Spence became a standout for the Buckeyes and was very impressive with grades in the classroom as well. His 2013 has 21.5 explosive plays in 13 games before he was suspended for the Orange Bowl because he failed a drug test. He then was suspended again by the Buckeyes as he failed another drug test the following season before being permanently banned by the Big 10 for the same infractions. He then transferred to finish up at Eastern Kentucky (as he was not eligible for the draft) and put up a massive season there with 34 explosives in just 11 games - with several big plays against Power 5 opponents. He is as talented a player as you might see in this entire draft, but he obviously is going to be at the top of the "red flag" discussions in this draft.
Spence is an edge rusher which is one of the most sought after positions in football. Just a few days from when Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware brought the mighty Patriots to their knees, most football enthusiasts do not need an explanation on how destructive speed rushers can truly be on the biggest stage. Spence is touted as possibly the best of the bunch and to examine further I used both his Ohio State tape from 2013 and several games from his quick stop at Eastern Kentucky.
What I liked: Everything I heard about his ability is true. He is as "twitched up" as an edge rusher can be with an explosive get-off, a fantastic bend around the corner where he dips and gets around the corner with a minimum of wasted motion or distance, and then closes on a QB from either side with a violence upon his arrival. He is devastating. When they played against Kentucky this fall, it was somewhat amusing to see how many players the Wildcats would dedicate to make sure he got blocked. Often, the number for that job was three. He was unstoppable in many passing down situations, but is big and strong enough - at over 260 with room to grow - that nobody was trying to take advantage of him with the running game. He also showed some very nice relentless battle when a play did not include him and chased several plays down from behind.
What I did not like:His rap-sheet is disconcerting for a few reasons. The biggest issue for me is that he was given a mulligan by Ohio State and still did not make sure he tested clean after being warned harshly. This, for someone with everything to lose, is a very bothersome warning sign for how serious someone is about football. The investments are all about calculating how badly someone wants to be great and his decisions as a 19-year old indicated that he wasn't too serious about making himself the best he could be. But, young people sometimes make poor decisions and learn from it. We don't know. On the field, he does slow down some as the game goes on in 2015, and while he looks sculpted from stone, one wonders how well his cardio was as the conditioning was not impressive as some of these games went along. That said, it would be placed as a minor concern which likely is a non-issue on a NFL roster. I wonder about his lateral quickness and will be interested in how he tests in February to confirm that he has the right hips to get the DeMarcus Ware comps that his tape suggests are possible. But, on the field, he checks all the boxes for a top prospect.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys: There will come a time where you take the best player available and Spence will quickly be that guy, probably by about the 15th pick in the draft. Then, it will come down to which teams will take on his concerns to reap the benefits of a guy who certainly appears to be a prototypical edge rusher on Sundays.
The most likely scenario is that one of the rich teams will get richer and he will end up as one of the ensemble rushers that the power teams put together like in Seattle or Carolina and be an instant threat off the edge in the back half of the 1st round. But, if Spence had no red flags and we simply were watching him race Joey Bosa to the QB at Ohio State these last several seasons, there is a good chance he would be strongly in the mix for a top 5 pick - just like Bosa. That said, he is one interesting redemption story that will continue to play out as draft day approaches. There is no question he could be one of the best players in the 2016 Draft. Or, one of the cautionary tales.