With the 86th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Miami (Fla) linebacker Sean Spence.
Some analyst were probably surprised by this pick. Spence was an incredibly productive linebacker at Miami, but at only 5’11″ and 231 lbs, he’s thought to be undersized for an NFL linebacker.
Despite the questions about his size, Spence is one of the fastest and most instinctual linebackers in this year’s draft. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that he reads plays better than any other linebacker in this year’s draft. He’s great at anticipating snap counts, and he always gets a good jump on plays. He does a good job in coverage, and will be an asset covering tight ends.
Spence was a 4 year starter at Miami, and he had over 100 tackles in both 2010 and 2011. 31 of those were tackles for a loss.
Spence was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year as a freshman. He made first-team All-ACC as a senior, and he was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. He was Miami’s Most Valuable Player in 2010, and he was voted the team’s Defensive Outstanding Player in 2011. He was also a team captain. That’s not too bad for a guy who isn’t even 6′ tall.
Because of his size, he’ll definitely have to play on the weak side. But I can also see him playing an important role against teams like the New England Patriots who utilize 2 tight ends. He’ll have no problem covering a tight end, although he will be at a disadvantage from a height perspective.
Spence was known for being a hard hitter in college, but at only 228 lbs, that may not be the case in the NFL. However, Ryan Clark only weighs 205 lbs., and he’s a notoriously hard hitter.
Because he’s fast and has great instincts, I also expect him to have an immediate impact on special teams.
I’m not as excited about this pick as I was about the Steelers’ first two selections. But I can definitely see some situations where Dick LeBeau could make use of Sean Spence’s skills. He’d be great in nickel situations, and I could even see him playing safety based on his skills (though he never played the position in college).