Da’Ron Payne – Defensive Tackle
Da’Ron Payne NFL Draft Profile
Da’Ron Payne could easily end up as the best defensive lineman in the 2018 draft class. Number 94 jumps off the screen as a dynamic and unstoppable interior player who stuffs the run and gets in the face of quarterbacks. Scouts drool over the polish in Payne’s interior line play, citing excellent body control at the point of contact and great instincts for taking on and avoiding blocks.
A first-team All-SEC selection, and the Defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship game, Payne stood out on a defensive roster full of NFL talent. While no one factor about his game is overwhelming, it’s possible that he may be the most complete interior defensive lineman to come out of Alabama in a long time; possibly ever.
Coach Nick Saban has also praised Payne’s leadership and hard work. On the field, he has the ability to take on multiple blockers while keeping his eyes in the backfield. On one particular play in the National Championship Game, Payne stopped Georgia from converting a key third and three in the fourth quarter by slamming the door on what appeared to be a wide open lane to a first down. That play is a microcosm of what a player like Payne could bring to an NFL roster.
Alabama ranked number one against the run this past season, allowing an anemic 2.72 yards per rush and only 94.7 yards per game. Watching film of the Crimson Tide it’s easy to see why. Da’Ron Payne eats up blockers on his way to the ball carrier. Teams simply could not run the football up the middle against the Tide. Even Georgia had to rely on the speed and slashing of three talented backs to gain some momentum as Payne continued to wreak havoc in the backfield.
Big Game Player
Speaking of Georgia, Payne has proven that he can rise to the occasion in big games. Defensive tackle is not a stat position unless you’re named Aaron Donald; but watching the College Football Playoff games, it was clear that Mr. Payne was no shrinking violet under the bright lights. The Dawgs doubled Payne all night, and he still ended with six (6) tackles as the Tide held their rushing attack to 133 yards.
Stood Out Amongst Big Time Competition
Watching the Alabama defense this year, even casual fans could sense two of these things were not like the others, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Da’Ron Payne. On a team loaded with talent and playing at the highest level, Payne dominated. Teams actively ran away from him and were scheming around his area of the field. Unfortunately for other teams, avoiding the middle third of the field isn’t exactly a viable option.
Lack of production
Yes, we already said lack of production isn’t all that important for defensive tackles. However, stats are stats, and Payne’s are far from eye-popping. 3.5 tackles-for-loss (TFL) and 1.5 sacks belie the monster Payne can be for opposing teams to handle. Again, Payne is not going to be the second coming of Aaron Donald. He is not a hybrid Defensive Tackle/pass rusher/sack machine. He is a plug and play type player who can anchor a defense and force opposing teams to double him on every single down.
Another knock against Payne is his movement at the snap. For all his strength and size, he is not a penetrator as much as he is a people mover. Defenses are able to run away from him and take advantage of his lack of side-to-side mobility. Honestly, this is nit-picking. Complaining about his side to side tackling is like complaining that Antonio Brown isn’t 6’5. It isn’t his role, and it doesn’t matter most of the time.
Value for a Pick
Honestly, it’s hard to find many knocks against this kid. Other than the somewhat mundane numbers, he is a solid player. Good size, strong hands, freakish athleticism for his frame, and coached by the great Nick Saban. However, the concern for taking Payne in the first round is the value for your pick. In the NFL, nose tackles who eat blockers are not the hot commodity they once were, and for teams who use them, many have found their man. Payne is worth an early to mid first round pick, but the question teams are asking has to be whether they can’t get a higher impact player at that position in the draft.
Scouts love Da’Ron Payne’s size, strength, disruptive play, leadership, and attitude. That is a killer combination and one that will almost certainly catch the attention of some NFL coaches. He will likely never be a five-plus sack interior lineman in the NFL, but he has the potential to be a stalwart anchoring defensive lines for a long time.
NFL Player Comparison
Linval Joseph – Vikings
Teams With Need at Interior Lineman
Chargers, Patriots, Cowboys, Bills, Chiefs