The resurgence of Noah Spence has been one of the better stories surrounding the 2016 NFL Draft.
The former Ohio State pass-rusher appeared to be throwing his career in the trash thanks to drug use, which led to him being permanently banned from the Big Ten and unable to continue his Buckeyes career. Spence has since admitted that he thought his football career was over at that point, but sometimes in life, the light is darkest before the dawn.
After leaving OSU, Spence traveled just a few hours down I-75 as he transferred to FCS college Eastern Kentucky University. From there, Spence re-emerged as a pass-rushing force with 22.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.That came after Spence's big 2013 season at OSU in which he registered 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 50 total tackles.
Though Spence had one more year of college eligibility, he decided to go pro after one year at EKU. He then lit up the Senior Bowl so much that many began projecting him as a top-15 pick and the best edge-rusher in this year's draft. He had a chance to further ensure that while also making a case for the top 10 if he had a good showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, which he failed to do.
That led to Spence's stock dropping to the point that he could go just about anywhere in the first round after the 10th-overall pick. It's very possible he's still on the board when the Bengals are on the clock with the 24th pick, and that may be one of his best landing spots, per NFL.com's Bucky Brooks.
Surveying the NFL landscape for places where troubled players have thrived, I believe the Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals would be perfect destinations for Spence. In Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis has put together one of the more talented rosters in the NFL by taking chances on a few "high risk" characters on draft day and in free agency. Although the critics will point to the epic meltdown on Wild Card Weekend as reason why the Bengals should bypass adding another character risk to the roster, I believe the five straight playoff appearances cannot be ignored for a franchise that spent quite a bit of time as an NFL bottom-feeder.
I don't put too much stock into Spence not fitting with the Bengals because of his character. While they have and still have players with 'outgoing' personalities, this roster has far more quality characters who have a firm grasp of the locker room and team itself. I don't think adding Spence to the mix is going to cause any trouble.
Here are some more thoughts from Brooks on what NFL teams think of Spence:
Spence's draft value is all over the place when I speak to evaluators. Some teams view him as a destructive force off the edge with the pass-rush skills and first-step quickness to create chaos on passing downs. However, skeptics view Spence as an average athlete with less-than-ideal measurable traits (height/weight/speed). In fact, I had an AFC defensive line coach question his arm length and forearm thickness -- saying it is important for rushers to have thick wrists and big hands to deal with physical offensive tackles in the NFL -- when I quizzed him about Spence's potential as a pro.
Another problem with Spence is that his measurables don't match up to what the Bengals like to have from their defensive ends. They prefer true ends who played that position in college, not guys who were outside linebackers getting to rush the passer a lot.
At 6'6" and 251 pounds, Spence is too light to be a true 4-3 end right now and may never become one. His spot in the NFL is more likely as a 3-4 outside backer who gets to rush the passer more and doesn't have to worry too much about defending the run.
Looking at the current Bengals ends, Margus Hunt (6-8, 277 lbs), Michael Johnson (6'7", 266 lbs) and Carlos Dunlap (6'6", 277 lbs) were all heavier than Spence, and two of them were taller. At best, Spence is a situational rusher who you can't keep on the field for obvious run downs as a rookie.
At worst, he's another Dontay Moch. While there's no question to me that Spence is better, he simply may not be able to make a big enough impact for the Bengals to warrant a first-round selection. There is the thought he could become a SAM backer for the Bengals and just kick down to end on passing downs.
That's a similar role we saw Cris Carter have early last year. I'm confident Spence is better than Carter, so we may see this kind of role more effective with a talent like Spence occupying it.
All said, I do not think the Bengals draft Spence, and I'm not even sure he goes in Round 1. One thing I am sure of: Spence has the potential to be a pass-rushing force in the NFL if he makes it to the right system.