Noah Spence and the Buccaneers Are a Perfect Match
Before he began his career as a "confused" GIF meme, John Travolta was a big-time Hollywood heartthrob, known for such smash 70's hits as Saturday Night Fever and the television show Welcome Back, Kotter.
Yet, one film truly vaulted his star into the stratosphere: the 1978 film adaptation of the musical Grease, in which Travolta -- playing bad boy Danny Zuko -- serenades his semi-titular car, "Greased Lightning" with his band of merry greasers.
The player in the 2016 NFL Draft who tugs the most at my heartstrings, however, could also be called "automatic," "systematic," and "hydromatic." Eastern Kentucky edge rusher Noah Spence was certainly burning up the quarter mile in the pre-draft process, and I am convinced that he could be the best speed-based pass rusher in the class.
I had the distinct pleasure of getting to see Spence compete at the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and he absolutely dominated the offensive linemen in attendance. He didn't show up in the stat sheet a ton, but during the week, he strung together multiple back-to-back play sequences where he nearly devastated the opposing quarterback.
In the game, he did things like this.
Noah Spence makes Kyle Murphy look foolish with an his change of direction and hand usage here. pic.twitter.com/3zlzkcV29A
— Ethan Young (@NFLDrafter) January 31, 2016
You'd be incorrect in that regard. MockDraftable has graphed out Spence's athletic measurables from the NFL Combine, so we can see how he measures up against other players at the same position in terms of percentiles.
Below are his spider graphs both as a defensive end and an outside linebacker.
Selected by a team with a 4-3 defense, Spence will likely line up as a defensive end, and we can see that he might end up being far too small (3rd percentile in height, 11th in weight, 21st in arm length). His percentiles above 70th in 10-yard dash, vertical, and broad jump indicate that he should have excellent explosiveness -- which we found was the most important trait in defensive linemen -- but he has just average agility, as evidenced by his 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle times.
He should still be an incredible pass-rusher, based on his hand usage and awareness on tape, mixed with his straight-line explosion.
Spence has a few off-the-field question marks, but his former head coach with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Urban Meyer, apparently has no concerns about Spence's drug-related transfer or about his work ethic.
Even back in the thick of the fiasco in 2014, Meyer said, "What the future holds for Noah, I have no idea, but to throw him to the street, I didn't feel like that was appropriate."
Tampa Bay's Lightning Will Thunder
This pick just made too much sense not to happen. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to select Noah Spence 39th Overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. This is a massive windfall for a team like the Buccaneers, which has been atrocious at generating a pass rush in recent seasons. The Buccaneers' average sack count over the past three years is a paltry 36.33, 23rd in the league, and only a hair above the bottom quarter of the league.
They've attempted to address that this offseason by bringing in veteran Robert Ayers, who has averaged 0.5 sacks per game over the last three seasons for the Denver Broncos and New York Giants. Ayers is 30, however, and is starting to lose some of his juice as more than a situational pass-rusher only.
Spence will bring an every-down element to this team, should he win a bigger role in training camp. Spence utilizes a greater speed rush element to his game than Ayers' physicality and bull-rush tactics, but once he figures out how to adapt his tools to the NFL, opposing left tackles should present little problem for him.
In addition, Spence's threat of pass rush may allow the other defenders on the team to get more space and less attention from blockers. Linebacker Lavonte David could see an uptick in blitz usage thanks to Spence's presence. Spence's athleticism could lend itself to usage as a linebacker in sub-packages if needed as well, should they want to get both Ayers and Spence on the field at the same time, along with William Gholston.
For Individual Defensive Player (IDP) purposes, he's listed as a defensive end most places, but his versatility should get him on the field for plenty of snaps. That's the best of both worlds.
Ayers announced in March that he hopes to become the first Buc since Simeon Rice in 2005 to notch double-digit sacks in a season. He's got a good shot at it, as does Noah Spence.
This is an excellent choice for Tampa Bay, who was able to get a player many thought would be their selection in the top 10 of the NFL Draft and instead fell right back to them one round later.