Draft Spotlight: Sean Spence, LB, Miami

Written by Kip Earlywine

Rundown:  Sean Spence is a senior linebacker from the Miami Hurricanes.  He played most of his snaps at middle linebacker.  He was the ACC defensive rookie of the year in 2008.  He has 47.0 career tackles for loss, the second highest career total among 2011 players.

Age:  23 (January 17, 1989)

Height:  5’11”

Weight:  231

40 time:  4.71

10 yard split:  1.59

3 cone:  7.08

Vertical Jump:  33.50″

Compilation Videos:

vs. Clemson (2010)

vs. Kansas St. and Florida St.


  • Fast
  • Aggressive minded, attacks gaps and makes plays behind the line of scrimmage
  • Has the burst and closing speed to become a potentially useful blitzer
  • Built to excel in coverage
  • Capable of delivering hard hits and impressive tackles
  • Textbook hand use / fights off blocks well


  • Undersized
  • Mistake prone
  • Occasionally gets sloppy with tackling technique

Sean Spence ran a disappointing 4.71 forty time at the combine, which is straddling the line between average and below average.  Its actually a slower time than those clocked by Leroy Hill (4.65) or even David Hawthorne (4.69 at his pro-day).  As said before, track speed is not the same thing as field speed, and to my eye Spence plays with above average field speed, perhaps a touch less than Bobby Wagner, who clocked a 4.45 time.  I don’t think general managers are going to put much stock into Spence’s 40 time.  They know how fast he is from tape study.

Spence wasn’t quite the linebacker I expected when I watched his compilation videos.  I was expecting a player like Bobby Wagner: consistent, mistake free, and boring.  Spence is different.  He made some splash plays.  He had a sack.  He attacked the first level with good timing which led to many tackles for loss.  I’ve seen a lot of scouting reports that sing praises for Spence’s instincts, and I’d like to as well, but I just can’t.  Not from this sample.  He missed tackles that led to extra yards gained.  He took poor angles in pursuit that turned what could have been a moderate gain and turned it into a big one.  On the second play of the Clemson compilation, he misread and over pursued his run responsibility which directly led to a 71 yard touchdown run.  Spence is erratic.  In this sample it felt like he had more negative plays than splashy ones.

For all of his ugly plays, Spence does occasional show some pretty tackles.  It seems like when Spence has a chance to square up, he can hit and wrap as well as Seattle’s #31: Kam Chancellor.

Spence is undersized, but I’m not sure how much that matters when projecting to the NFL.  His size was not an issue at Miami.  He uses excellent hand technique to almost instantly shed blockers.  Its not every day that one of the smallest linebackers is also one of the best at shedding blocks.  If I had to pick one thing I like about Spence the most- it’s his hand use against blockers.

Spence has fluid hips and has the athleticism to be an excellent coverage linebacker.  As far as how good he actually played in coverage, I really can’t say from the footage I’ve found, although the consensus among scouting reports is very positive.

In conclusion:

Sean Spence is often mocked in the 3rd or 4th round, and after finally scouting him, I feel that’s a pretty fair appraisal.  He has a knack for making plays.  He had 14 TFLs last year and 17 TFLs the year before.  Very few linebackers can boast those kind of numbers.  Bobby Wagner had less than half that many TFLs when playing the 4-3 Mike role from 2009-2010.  But Spence also makes a lot of mistakes.  He’s the kind of guy that can win the game for you on 4th down, but lose the game for you the next week on a crucial late game play.  Both Spence and Wagner can cover and have speed.  Does Seattle prefer the safer version or the gambler?  My gut tells me that Seattle would rather have the safer player, especially if they rely on just two linebackers in a 5-2 front with any consistency.

Regardless of Seattle’s preferences, I’d be a little surprised if they didn’t have both Wagner and Spence on their radar somewhere.  Perhaps Spence could be an insurance policy in rounds 3 or 4 depending on what happens at #43.


  1. Doug

    I think guys like this get eaten up in the pro’s…

  2. akki

    It’s kind of strange that Spence’s profile seems to be that of a very instinctive player whose weakness is fighting off blocks, yet your film study leads to a very different conclusion.

    How much do you think KJ Wright would act as a prototype for the other LBs they target? When KJ Wright was drafted, Carroll/Schneider mentioned his length and spider arms, and it seemed like when defending the pass, Wright’s wingspan compensated for his difficulties in keeping up with receivers. Spence, with his shorter stature and short arms (come to think of it, that makes his 12 bench press reps at the combine sound even worse) can stop the pass, but in a completely different way, one that might not resonate with the coaches.

    Looking forward to some analysis on Bradham and Robinson – maybe one of them is the silver bullet do-everything 3rd/4th round LB that must be out there. 😉

  3. Misfit74

    Undersized and slow? Maybe in round 3 or later, but I fail to see the upside of this guy given two HUGE shortcomings in terms of upside.

    Is he undersized for just MLB or is he also undersized for the outside WLB/SLB spots he could play if we drafted him? It still doesn’t make a lot of sense given the plan to ‘add speed at LB’. Seems like a lateral move, at best, in relation to what Heater gave us.

  4. Bad Decision Penguin


    We’re at the point in the draft process where I’m burnt out on 1st round talents. I love when people start digging into the 3rd round and later prospects.

    With that said, I’d love to see you do a piece on Audie Cole, NC State 6-4 inside LB.

    CBS has this to say about his pass coverage, “Well experienced in coverage due to his experience at strongside linebacker. Gets a good, strong jam on the tight end/receiver. Can be too grabby, however, which could result in holding calls at the NFL level. Reads the quarterback’s eyes and anticipates well. Good agility and speed for the position. Likely will be viewed by some 4-3 teams as a legitimate candidate to move back to OLB due to his ability in coverage.”

    He’s got the size and coverage skills, but not quite the speed, that I think PC is looking for in his LBs.

  5. NMD

    I’m a Sean Spence fan, watching him is like watching Kendricks as they both have the burst when they move. Spence is slightly undersized but was only about 5 lbs less then Kendricks at the combine and while his arms are about an inch under average for LBs they’re half an inch longer the Keuchly’s. As Kip said when you watch him he seems like one of the faster LBs in the draft behind Brown, Kendricks, and Wagner and his hand 40 time from the combine was a 4.56. I’d be more then happy to take him in the 3rd and he’d be an absolute steal in the 4th.

  6. MJ

    Amen NMD…people get way too caught up in 40 times in spandex over what actually happens on a field with 21 other people and in pads. Spence looks explosive on the field and makes huge plays.

    Kip – Love your work, but I gotta disagree with you on the instincts part. Sure, every player makes a bad play, but there are so many times that Spence makes amazing plays as if he was in the other teams huddle. His size does concern me, but ET has made me sleep better at night knowing sometimes no matter the size of the dog in the fight, it’s more about the fight in the dog. Spence in the 3rd to me would be a no brainer. Keep up the awesome work dude!

  7. Rob

    BDP – I’ll see if I can get some tape on Colie.

  8. Kip Earlywine

    Spence made 2-3 mistakes per game in a 3 game sample. Its possible he could be instinctive AND mistake prone, but there were definitely moments where his instincts failed him. In fairness, this was only a 3 game sample. Its possible that he just had a lot of mistakes in these games.

  9. mattlock3

    Kip, you need to get on Twitter or something where it’s easier to carry on conversations directly with you. I’ve come to really value your scouting eye and your instinct for analysis.

    I know you may have addressed him already, but what think you of Lavonte David as the coverage ‘backer the Seahawks are looking for? Do you consider him more of a fringe first-round talent that wouldn’t fit in very well with a series designed to uncover more obscure prospects? Or are you planning on looking into him in a future post?

    Personally, as much as I love Mychal Kendricks (and I LOVE me some Mychal Kendricks), I think David may well fit the profile the Seahawks are supposedly looking for–though, I do wonder what their plan is with Malcolm Smith. I read recently that (I think) John Schneider referred to him as “the perfect WLB” or something to that effect.

    As pertains to this post, I like Spence. You described him just as I would- instinctive, aggressive, quick, and mistake-prone. I think if the Seahawks missed out on Kendricks, Brown, Wagner, David, etc. in the second, Spence is the type of guy who could provide good value in the third round.

  10. Tom T.

    Kip and Rob, do either of you feel that the front office may want to start Malcolm Smith and have another small/speedy LB like Lavonte David or Spence (should Smith get hurt do to his small size at the position)?
    Ideally, both Smith and David/Spence would stay healthy, but I love the idea of Seattle not missing a beat should Smith get injured. I personally think that Smith should have a good shot at a starting job this season.

  11. Leonard

    Misfit- No one that has seen him play thinks he is slow. It is pretty obvious he has above average game speed. Ignore combine times. They mean nothing. I gaurantee he would play faster than Usain Bolt if he suited up and played football. He is small though. But the upside is he is a play maker. Third round seems good value since he is on the small side.

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