Noah Spence seemed a bit surprised by the last question he was asked during his turn at the NFL Scouting Combine's media-room podium. This despite the fact that it was a relatively logical follow-up to most of the 34 questions that came before it.
The question: "Are you a risky pick for a team?"
That capped an eight-minute Q&A session at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday, one of the most anticipated group interviews of this year's Combine. Spence hit Indianapolis after one outstanding season at Eastern Kentucky and an eye-opening effort at January's Senior Bowl, marking him as one of the best pass-rushing prospects in the draft. However, he was at Eastern Kentucky only because he had failed two drug tests at Ohio State and been declared ineligible to continue playing in the Big Ten.
Spence confirmed on Friday that his two failed tests were both for the drug Ecstasy, the second of which came in September of 2014. He has had no issues since – he says he was tested on a weekly basis, without incident, while at EKU – and is seeking to convince potential NFL suitors that he has put his mistakes behind him. In front of the media, he answered each question without hesitation or any attempt to hide from the facts.
"I'm just telling the truth, my whole story and everything like that," said Spence. "I'm just not holding anything back.
"Like I said, I feel like everything I've ever done is out in the open. I've never gotten away with anything. It's all there; there ain't nothing to hide."
Still, that question: Are you a risky pick? It's what each interested NFL team will be seeking to determine during the Combine and in the weeks to come before April's draft. How well it is answered, in an overall sense, will determine if Spence is a top-10 pick, a late first-rounder or a player who has to wait a day or two longer to hear his name called.
Perhaps it's a good sign that Spence was momentarily taken aback by the question before replying, "Um…no. Not at all." He intends to be transparent with teams, and he expects to be believed, and he thinks he will be judged on his talent in the end. The year and a half that have passed since the mistake that ended his time at Ohio State constitute his best piece of evidence.
"It's definitely huge for me, especially with all my drug tests and I'm still being drug-tested to this day," said Spence. "It shows that I've grown from the situation and tried my best to become a better person."
One of the most useful parts of the NFL Scouting Combine is the round of evening interviews at the players' hotel. Prospects spend hours rotating between meeting rooms, 15 minutes at a time, laying themselves bare for team executives and coaches. Spence said that so far he has met with the Giants, Chiefs, Ravens and Redskins, but he'll likely hit a majority of the 32 squads before leaving Indianapolis.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be one of those teams on his list. They possess a top-10 pick and an apparent need for pass-rushing help. General Manager Jason Licht is obviously not going to share whether or not Spence has a prominent spot on the Bucs' draft board, but it's a match you're going to see made by a number of mock drafters. That was the pick made by CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco in his mock posted on Friday, for instance, while several of the mocks on NFL.com have Spence going in the 10-12 range.
Spence understands that Tampa Bay or any other interested team is going to be particularly careful to establish trust in his character and his decision-making.
"Yeah, for sure," he said. "With anybody that has a substance-abuse problem that they've had, I feel like they're pretty wary about it. But if it's behind you, if you convince a team it's behind you, then…"
Spence trailed off without adding the obvious conclusion to that sentence, but one was provided a bit earlier on the day by Joey Bosa, Spence's former teammate at Ohio State. Bosa is also a top-10 talent in this year's draft, just without that one big issue from his past hanging over his head. He and Spence and perhaps Oregon's DeForest Buckner may be vying for the top draft slot among pass-rushers this year, especially if Spence is convincing in his meetings this week.
"He's a great kid," said Bosa of Spence. "Everyone makes mistakes; I've made mistakes. It's what you do with a second chance, and as you see he's here, he's being looked at as a first-round pick, so I think he did a great job with his second chance."