Despite playing for Eastern Kentucky last season, Noah Spence is possibly the best pass rusher in the 2016 NFL Draft, with a lot of teams showing different degrees of interest. The defensive end who started his college career playing for Ohio State has recently been closely linked with the Washington Redskins, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints.
For both the Ravens and the Saints, it makes a lot of sense to take a pass rusher early in the draft. The Saints have fielded some of the worst defenses in NFL history over the last few years. The Ravens missed the playoffs last season because of injuries but not that alone, as their defense really fell apart with key players leaving during the 2015 offseason. Bringing some youth to the front line in order to pressure the quarterback is essential in building up that unit again.
Spence has off-the-field red flags, or had. He tested positive for drugs twice in 2014, which got him suspended from the Orange Bowl (which the Buckeyes lost to Clemson) and the first two games of the 2014 season. Testing positive for the second time got him banned from the program and from every other Big Ten activity, leading him to play for the Colonels in the Ohio Valley Conference. He did extremely well there, racking up 11.5 sacks and 63 tackles, sharing the defensive player of the year award in the conference. He had 7.5 sacks for Ohio State in 2013 before getting suspended.
Spence has the motor and endurance that make up for being possibly slightly undersized for a pro defensive end (6’2, 251 lbs). He gets better as the game goes on and has no problem getting to the quarterback and blasting by offensive linemen who do have the strength advantage in the fourth quarter. Teams are going to take him early, with only the off field issues he owned up to costing him money and peace of mind early on draft night.
He might not be a three-down pass rusher right away. It might take time getting used to the speed of the NFL after a year of dominating in the FCS. Eventually, however, he should become a starter, and shouldn’t have a problem playing very well in a 3-4 system as the outside linebacker or in some hybrid role.