Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter believe that they selected the draft’s purest pass-rusher and best kicker in Round 2 of the NFL Draft by taking Noah Spence and later trading up for Roberto Aguayo Friday night.
Spence, the 39th overall pick from Eastern Kentucky, gives Tampa Bay much needed help along its front four that struggled to apply pressure in 2015. And judging by Licht’s praise of the former Buckeye, both on and off the field, Spence will presumably enter camp as a penciled-in starter.
“He’s going to bring what we’ve missed here, another rusher,” Licht said of Spence. “We felt like hew as one of, if not the, best pure pass rusher in the draft.
“You have to feel comfortable with the person,” Licht continued, asked about Spence’s character. “You can’t just make a quick decision, whether he falls into one of those categories. You have to spend time, do your research, go back through his life and sit down obviously and talk with him, but if you feel comfortable and good about it. Then you can’t sentence a guy for life for some mistakes he’s made in the past.”
Added Koetter, “Definitely a guy who had some immaturity in his life and, by his own admission, made mistakes. But in the end, with all the research done, we felt like this was the best way to go. And when we talked to him on the phone tonight, the emotion in his voice – that was very real. But time will tell. We have high expectations and hopefully they’ll be met.”
If Spence is serious about keeping a clean off-field record, than Tampa Bay has good reason to feel confident about his presence at one of the end positions. The 6-foot-3, 252-pound edge rusher tallied 15 sacks combined over his last two seasons – one each at Ohio State and Eastern Kentucky – and added another 30.5 tackles for loss while standing above the competition.
Koetter, for his part, has been impressed overall with who the Bucs have managed to yield in his first draft as a head coach. To this point, he has no reason to not have full confidence in Licht and his staff to improve the roster.
“We feel like we got the best pass rusher in the draft and the best kicker in the draft,” Koetter said. “Still feel like the drafts going great and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.
“When the pressure is on and the clock is running, it’s easy to abandon your script. Jason stayed true to the script, stayed true to what we wanted. I don’t think anyone can be too disappointed in Jason’s track-record as a drafter so far, certainly not me.”
As for the Aguayo pick, Koetter knows everyone will have their opinion on the unconventional move, but make no mistake; a top-flight kicker is a weapon.
“When you look at this guy’s numbers, PAT and field goals, he’s never missed a kick under 40 yards and has range up to 60 yards,” Koetter said, adding that the new rules featuring PATs from the 15-yard line and kickoffs from the 35 are there to stay. “You look at the number of games decided by one score or less. Just like everything else, we’ll want to see it with our own eyes when we get out there in practice. But we always like to say, when we get to a certain yard-line we have three in the bank, and it just depends on what we’re going to do from there.”
Koetter also noted Aguayo’s ability to mortar kick, a technique that involves pinning a team inside the 20-yard line on a kickoff as if it were a punt. While NFL teams typically try to kick it through the end zone (since the ball comes out to the 20-yard line, not the 25), it still shows rare skill for a kicker and further solidifies his status as one of the all-time greats in college.
Aguayo finished his career in Tallahassee 69 of 78 on field goals, with an unprecedented mark of 46 for 46 on attempts from less than 40 yards out. He also never missed an extra point in three years.
“The importance of special teams is paramount,” Licht said. “When you get a chance to get the best kicker in the history of college football, I didn’t want to risk it. I wanted to take him, I like the confidence in him; I like the way he’s wired. A great kicker can be the difference in several games. And I’ve been around some great ones – Adam Vinatieri, (Stephen) Gostkowki – those guys are invaluable. We went up to get him so we obviously feel very confident about him. We needed to be bold there and we were.
“If you have chance to get a kicker that you think is going to be as good as we feel, that position is very important.”