The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have selected defensive end Noah Spence with their second-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft. The Eastern Kentucky prospect is arguably the best edge rusher in the entire draft, but there are some serious concerns about his past drug use which caused him to slide to the second round.
Spence should give a big boost to the Bucs' pass rush, as they haven't had a quality edge rusher since Simeon Rice in 2005. Spence's explosiveness, bend around the edge, hand use and ability to redirect to the quarterback are outstanding, and he absolutely dominated offensive tackles for Eastern Kentucky. For those concerned about the level of competition: he did the same thing at Ohio State, before getting kicked out, and was outstanding at the Senior Bowl this year.
Speaking of getting kicked out of Ohio State, that happened because he repeatedly failed drug tests because of his abuse of XTC. He's made major efforts to show that he's grown past that, however, reportedly sending his past 20 drug tests to all 32 teams to show that he's been clean for at least a year. There have also been repeated profiles of his moving on from drug use. The fact that Jameis Winston vouched for him won't hurt his standing in the eyes of the Bucs, either.
Apparently the Bucs are satisfied that Spence won't be a problem off the field, or they would not have drafted him. Whether they're right remains to be seen.
On the field, though, there's no doubting Spence's talent. Although he ran a surprisingly slow 4.8-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, the 6'2" 251 lbs. defensive end put up outstanding numbers in explosiveness drills, and had very good 10-yard and 20-yard splits. He just doesn't have long speed. Another concern is his play against the run, which is naturally a problem at his size. He needs some technique work there, and proper leverage can go a long way, but he likely won't ever be a beast against the run. That may limit him to passing downs only early on in his career, but if he's good enough as a pass rusher, he'll be a starter before long regardless of his play against the run.
So, yeah, this Noah Spence kid can really get after the quarterback. Because of his off-field stuff, I don't have any idea where or when he will get drafted, but don't be surprised if three years from now we are talking about him as one of the best pass rushers in this class and in the league overall.
That is especially true if he ends up going to a team that really knows how to use him. I'm excited to see what he can be in the NFL and that's about the highest praise I can give a prospect.
Similarly, our own Jason Kanno broke him down in-depth and was very impressed with Spence.
Even with his off-field issues, Spence should be taken in the first round, within the first 15 picks even. There isn't likely to be a better pass-rusher available at the ninth spot so Spence is a viable option for the Bucs' first pick.
All in all, the Bucs have grabbed the best edge rusher in the NFL draft with their first pick. That's an outstanding result and if his off-field issues indeed turn out to be no big deal, this should have Bucs fans very excited.
The Bucs have now addressed two of their biggest needs by drafting Spence in the second round, and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in the first. They don't have any positions they absolutely must address now, but a safety, wide receiver, tackle and defensive tackle would all be good looks in the next rounds. The Bucs have a third-round pick coming up later today, and could use their two fourth-round picks to trade back up, so stay tuned.
Buccaneers 2016 draft picks
Round 1: pick 9 (9th overall): Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida.
Round 2: pick 8 (39th overall): Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
Round 3: pick 11 (74th overall)
Round 4: pick 8 (106th overall, from Chicago Bears)
Round 4: pick 10 (108th overall)
Round 5: pick 9 (148th overall)
Round 6: pick 8 (183rd overall)
Round 6: pick 22 (197th overall, from Washington)