CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Akeem Spence already had grabbed the attention of NFL scouts in February.

That’s when he bench pressed 225 pounds 37 times, an impressive show of strength and endurance that moved the early-entry defensive tackle from Illinois up the NFL Draft boards.

With proof of his strength taken care of at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Spence was determined to make a different impression at Illinois’ pro day in March. That's when 39 scouts representing 18 NFL teams gathered at Illinois’ indoor practice facility.

“I felt that in Indy I showed them I have strength,” Spence said. “Here I wanted to show them I can move.”

Spence, a 307-pound defensive tackle, rumbled through the agility drills and emerged with a wide smile.

“It’s looking good for me,” he said.

Spence is the highest rated of the 13 Illini players who worked out for NFL talent scouts, and he expects to hear his name called during the three-day NFL Draft that begins with Round 1 tonight.

Rounds 2 and 3 will be conducted on Friday and Rounds 4-7 will wrap up the draft Saturday.

Spence is rated as the No. 77 overall prospect in the draft by and an assessment of his skills on the Sports Illustrated website lauds Spence for his production and tenacity, predicting that he’ll grow into an NFL starter.

“Spence is a player who jumped off the film while evaluating (DE) Whitney Mercilus in 2011, and he continued to impress while evaluating his 2012 season. He has excellent playing speed for a 300-plus pound defensive tackle and consistently chases down the ball carrier in pursuit.

“Overall, Spence has all the tools to be a good starting defensive end in a 3-4 scheme or a starting defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense,” said.