CBS Sports has been going through the best fit among draft picks for every team, and they got around to the Buccaneers a while ago. Rob Rang identified fourth-rounder Akeem Spence as the best fit for the Bucs' scheme. Spence looks like the perfect replacement for Roy Miller as the Bucs' nose tackle.
The 6-foot-1, 307-pound Spence won't be handed Miller's old job as the nose guard in Tampa's Stunt 4-3 defense but his excellent strength, quick feet and high motor make him a logical candidate to do so. Like the 6-2, 310-pound Miller, Spence's short, wide frame gives him a natural leverage advantage, making him a stout run defender.
One area in which Spence may prove to be an upgrade over Miller is on runs to the outside. Virtually all of Miller's 24 tackles a season ago came inside the guard box. Spence, however, is relentless in pursuit, helping him record an eye-popping 72 tackles last year for the Illini.
Roy Miller's issue was never effort, but his speed and explosiveness left something to be desired. He was a non-factor as a pass-rusher and the Bucs hope that Spence can bring a little more pass-rush ability to the table, coupled with the same stout run defense offered by Miller.
The fact that Miller's tackles came mostly inside the tackle box has more to do with Miller's position than his pursuit. The tilted nose tackle calls for regular double teams inside the tackle box, and coupled with the Bucs' strong run defense on the edge there simply isn't much opportunity for Miller to make tackles on the outside. I really wouldn't expect Spence to be an upgrade in run defense over Miller, who was outstanding in that area last season.
You can see occasional flashes of Spence's pass rush ability in the above video, but it's far from consistent. Which is why Spence was a fourth-round pick, I guess. Greg Cosell made an interesting observation on the Shutdown Corner podcast: Akeem Spence has the same body type as human wrecking ball Geno Atkins. Obviously Spence doesn't have his disruptive ability or athleticism, so you can't expect nearly the same production, but Atkins does get a lot of his disruptive ability from his ability to play low -- something Spence does share with him.
"I think his body type and at times his movement was similar [to Geno Atkins]" noted Cosell. "[Atkins] is just a better athlete than Spence. But I was talking about body type. They're built very similarly, you know sort of that bowling ball look. Obviously Geno Atkins is a much quicker athlete, but I think that Spence has lower elements of that in his game. Similar attributes, just not at the same level."
Obviously Spence isn't going to be Atkins, who may be the best defensive tackle in the NFL right now, but he has a little more explosive athleticism than Roy Miller and has a slightly higher upside. And like Miller, his effort won't be the problem in the NFL. "If you compare him to Kawann Short, who's a more athletic kid, Spence was a kid who consistently played with effort and pressed to the ball whereas Kawann Short didn't do that," Cosell said.
Short, of course, was the Carolina Panthers' second-round pick who at times showed some special explosive ability and could have been a very high pick had he displayed that ability more consistently. Sometimes players like that turn it up in the NFL, and if he does the Panthers will have a steal. If he doesn't, though, he's a bust waiting to happen.
That's not really something the Bucs have to worry about with Spence. His effort (and fourth-round draft pick status) will keep him from being a bust, barring injury. His upside is significant. He won't be Geno Atkins, but he may turn into Brad Culpepper instead. For now, he looks like a capable (and cheap) replacement for Roy Miller.