On almost every mock draft and top 100 player list, you will see Noah Spence, who at this point is projected to be picked in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Based on talent alone, Spence is an easy first round choice; and now he's done enough off the field to rebuild his reputation as not only a skilled player, but one that wont be affected by the temptations that surround college and professional athletes.
It wasn't long ago that Spence's name was sewn on the back of a scarlet and gray Ohio State jersey. A formidable addition to the Silver Bullets, the 6'3, 261-pound defensive end spent two seasons in Columbus before getting indefinitely suspended after multiple failed drug tests. In his time with Ohio State, he started in 13 of the 24 games he played in, for a total of 64 combined tackles. Of those, 15.5 were for a loss of 103 total yards, along with 9.0 sacks and one forced fumble. His 8.0 sack season in 2013 earned him All-Big Ten honors.
Hell broke loose in 2014, when Spence failed his second drug test and was suspended indefinitely from the program. Despite attempt to appeal the decision, it was upheld in November 2014. Spence went to Eastern Kentucky University -- and by joining an FCS program, Spence was able to play right away.
Trouble didn't stop for Spence immediately, and he was arrested in May 2015 for public intoxication. EKU stood by their new defensive star, and were able to help rebuild him and his career. In his one year with the program, the DE amassed 63 total tackles, including 22.5 for loss, along with three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 11.5 recorded sacks.
Dealing with his demons
Spence has since discussed his addiction issues -- specifically with ecstasy -- and how deep-rooted the problem became; acknowledging he would binge on Saturday's following a game, only to show up to Sunday's practice with a pounding headache and severe dehydration.
"I got real caught up in the college lifestyle," Spence said, per ESPN. "Every weekend, I was doing too much. I was young and stupid and I thought I could go out and party all the time."
He stayed in Columbus during the 2014 season and had to watch his friends and teammates win a National Championship without him. It was then, that the defensive end was at his lowest, and realized this isn't how he wanted his story to end.
"It hurt," Spence told ESPN. "A lot. It helped me to know that I want to experience something close to that in my career. I don't want to mess up anymore or go backwards."
Urban Meyer helped facilitate the DE's transfer to EKU, where he had a good relationship with head coach Dean Hood. The Spence family credits Meyer and the Buckeyes with sticking with them during tough times and helping make sure Noah had the best care and options moving forward.
On top of making changes to his routine and mindset, the EKU coaches have worked with Spence to create a drug treatment plan, and he continues to see a counselor twice a month on campus. Spence -- along with Hood's guidance -- agreed to participate freely in every scheduled or impromptu drug test for EKU players in 2015.
"I wanted him to have as many drug tests as possible so we'd have a record to show the NFL, hey, this guy is clean," Hood said, according to ESPN.
It's this plan that has allowed NFL scouts to have faith in the person behind the talent ahead of the 2016 Draft, and are considering the defensive end as a possible first round option.
NFL Draft potential
Spence was named 2015 Ohio Valley Conference Co-defensive Player of the Year in 2015, leading EKU to be the No. 15 rush defense in the country (111.8 yards/game allowed). His ability to burst and bend can threaten a pass rusher on every down -- which is a very coveted quality in the NFL.
His scouting report from CBS Sports shows his tremendous upside, with things that might be cause for concern by future employers and teams.
Fluid, balanced athlete with smooth lateral quickness and change of direction ability to avoid blocks. Spence gets upfield quickly with his first step burst and closes fast, staying low to the ground with above average coordination. Wins the corner and controls his momentum extremely well with his natural leverage giving him an added advantage. Displays deadly dip to flatten to the quarterback.
Spence is a versatile front-seven defender, lining up at left and right end, standing up or putting his hand on the ground. He appears comfortable on his feet and has dropped in space enough to show that he can do it.
Needs to improve his snap discipline and anticipation. Needs to show heavier hands to jolt blockers at the point of attack, struggling to consistently convert speed to power. He has a light anchor and can be moved by blockers and his lack of height hinders his backfield vision at times.
Needs to improve his instincts and experience in coverage, especially with several teams with a 3-4 base defense scouting him as a stand-up linebacker. Needs to improve his functional strength, play with more of a mean streak and keep his nose clean.
Experts at CBS Sports are predicting him to go in the early- to mid-20's, with possible landing spots including Green Bay and Philadelphia. Both teams are looking to add depth to the defensive side of the ball, and could look to young talent from which to build a solid base. Spence will need to shine in his pre-draft interviews, but shouldn't have a hard time finding a team willing to take a chance on the potential super star.
He was always expected to be a star, going back to high school where he was a Parade Magazine All-American, a five-star prospect, the No. 2 defensive end prospect in the country, a Top 5 prospect nationally and he was also the No. 1 player in the state of Pennsylvania.
Spence will get his first chance to show off in front of scouts at the 2016 Senior Bowl. He'll suit up for Team South, which means facing his former teammates on Team North -- Braxton Miller, Nick Vannett, Joshua Perry, Adolphus Washington and Tyvis Powell.