The Buffalo Bills’ defense has been inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they’ve transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts haven’t been able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Eastern Kentucky edge rusher, Noah Spence.
Previous Prospect Breakdowns
Noah Spence originally attended the Ohio State University and was a prized five-star recruit. A top five prospect out of high school and the No. 2 defensive end, Spence saw minimal time as a freshman with the Buckeyes. In 2013 he moved into a starting role playing both right and defensive end and recorded 50 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and a forced fumble en route to being named as a first-team All-Big 10 player.
Following the season, he failed two drug tests for ecstasy and was suspended for the first two games of 2014, before being dismissed from the team.
Instead of declaring for the draft, Spence went through drug counseling before transferring to Eastern Kentucky. He’s reportedly passed all of his drug tests and coaches have had nothing but rave reviews for the work ethic of Spence, who just graduated as a redshirt junior. In 2015, Spence was named the Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 65 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 15 hurries and three forced fumbles.
Noah Spence has good size, standing 6’3” and weighing 262 pounds. His height isn’t ideal for a 4-3 defensive end, but he’s got long arms and has put on good weight over the last two seasons. He’s ridiculously fast, showing a great burst off the snap and shows the flexibility to bend the corner, a coveted trait from pass rushers.
Noah Spence Pass Rushing Ability
Watching Noah Spence at Eastern Kentucky was like watching a man amongst boys, as he was clearly the best and most dominant player on the field in every game he played in. There will be questions about his production against weaker competition, but he shined in the two games against Power-5 conference teams in Kentucky and North Carolina State.
In the following play against Kentucky, Spence aligns at right defensive end. He shows good burst off the snap and gets behind the left tackle. As he gets held, Spence is able to fight through the block, bend his hips while maintaining balance before bringing the quarterback down for a sack. It’s an incredible play from start to finish.
Spence’s lateral agility and bend is put on display in the first play of the game against N.C. State. He rushes wide and gets behind the pocket, but quickly re-directs and records a sack-fumble on quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Spence will primarily use his speed to beat tackles around the edge, but here against Kentucky he shows that’s not all he is capable of. He’s in a two-point stance to the right of the defensive formation. At the snap, he sets up the tackle with a fake to the outside, before swiping the blocker’s hands away and beats him inside. The running back in pass protection is no match for him and Spence avoids the block before chasing the quarterback out of the pocket and forcing a throwaway.
Spence is a good athlete, but a powerful one as well. In the 2013 Big-10 Championship Game against Michigan State, he was a handful for Jack Conklin, a projected top-50 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Aligned as a five-technique directly over the tackle, Spence shows off violent hands that prevent Conklin from making an effective block. He’s able to walk Conklin backwards before knocking him to the ground just before quarterback Connor Cook can get a pass off.
During the 2015 season, Spence was able to regularly dominate opponents with his unmatched athletic ability, but his relentlessness had a tendency to work against him. Often times, Spence would get too far up-field when rushing the passer and find himself behind the quarterback and essentially out of the play.
Noah Spence is an excellent pass rusher, but he’s also shown that he can be a playmaker against the run. He’s disruptive and does a good job of using his hands to both set the edge and shed blocks to get into the backfield.
In the following play from the Michigan State game, Spence lines up to the left of the defensive formation. At the snap, he avoids the tackle’s down-block, rips away from the fullback’s “wham” block attempt and brings down the running back for a stop.
Later in the game, Spence displays good functional strength to hold his ground and set the edge, allowing his teammate to make a play for a minimal gain.
In 2013 against Penn State, he avoids a cut block from Donovan Smith, a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and brings down the running back for a loss.
Here in a game from last season against Valpraiso, Spence shows his quickness again, avoiding a pulling lineman and making a tackle for loss.
At the next level, Spence will need to work on staying square and patient when defending the run. At times he’ll look to make a splash and play too high, which allows linemen to drive him off the line of scrimmage, as you can see in the following clip.
Potential Fit with Buffalo Bills
Noah Spence is probably the best 3-4 outside linebacker prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft. His combination of size, athleticism and strength is ideal for odd fronts, where he can rush the passer, set the edge and make plays in the backfield. There are obvious character issues regarding his drug history that teams will need to thoroughly examine, but his coaches have repeatedly vouched for him and he’s passed every drug test since his dismissal from Ohio State.
If Spence checks out from an off-the-field standpoint, he could be the steal of the draft class and an impact player that’s selected as early as the second round.