With the offseason in full swing for Atlanta, it’s time to continue our look at defensive tackle prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft. Yesterday we looked at the imposing Washington DT Vita Vea, and today we’ll be moving on to another high-end player: Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne.
Payne had perhaps the best two games of his career against Clemson and Georgia in the CFP, and he was mighty impressive. He’s a disruptive force on the interior and made a mark on all three downs for the Crimson Tide. Outside of those games, however, Payne has had a relatively quiet career and not much production. Let’s dive into the tape to find out if Payne is a legit first round talent at defensive tackle.
For this report, I watched Payne against Georgia (National Championship), Clemson (Sugar Bowl), and Tennessee to get a good look at Payne against various offenses and levels of competition. As the Combine and Pro Days have not yet occurred, we have no athletic testing available for prospects. After the conclusion of those events, I will add the official numbers to these reports.
Scouting Report: DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
Explosive and powerful player on the interior of the defensive line. At 6’2, 308, has ideal size for a 3T. Finds success with his bull rush or by simply blowing past slower offensive linemen. Effective as both a run stuffer and a pass rusher. Displays aggressive hand technique—he’s an active hand fighter and has a variety of moves in his arsenal, including a nice dip-and-rip, a club move, and a swim move. Athletic enough to be a consistent factor on passing downs and has some ability to chase down screens and mobile QBs.
Payne plays with excellent leverage and pad level. Rarely loses the battle on the interior and is very difficult to move one-on-one. He also possesses good awareness in the passing game: Payne is always looking to bat down balls, clog up throwing lanes, and keep the QB from escaping the pocket. Lined up at both 1T and 3T during his time at Alabama and has experience executing stunts and twists. Can be used creatively, including on offense lined up as FB—where he actually scored a TD.
Payne has a remarkably well-rounded game and few glaring weaknesses. The biggest appears to be his inability to win against double teams—he’s too easily swallowed up and pushed back. That might make things tricky for Payne as the primary threat on the interior in the NFL, as teams that made a concerted effort to nullify him had success. His ultra-aggressive style is both a plus and a minus. He occasionally ends up overshooting his gap or exploding into the backfield only to watch the play go right by him.
His lack of sack and TFL production is also concerning. Only three sacks and five TFLs during his three year career at Alabama (two as a starter). Payne also seems to inexplicably disappear for long stretches on tape, particularly against lesser competition. As his best games appeared to come in the biggest moments (National Championship, Sugar Bowl), it could be an issue of effort or lack of excitement—or it could be something else, such as reduced snaps or a difference in the game plan.
Payne has the makings of a very good 3T in the NFL and should be able to come in and contribute as an above-average starter right away. His versatility and well-rounded skillset will allow NFL teams flexibility in how they use him, as Payne can be an asset on base downs or in pass rushing situations. He appears to already have a solid repertoire of pass rushing moves, and his familiarity with executing stunts and twists will only accelerate his adjustment to the NFL game.
His lack of production will no doubt concern some teams, but the biggest question mark is how well he can perform as a team’s primary threat on the interior. Payne’s most glaring weakness is his inability to produce against double teams, and that’s unlikely to improve much against superior competition at the NFL level. He’d be well served, at least early in his career, by being paired with an established talent—for the Falcons, putting him next to Grady Jarrett would be an ideal situation.
With opposing offensive lines focused on Jarrett and the Falcons’ other rushers, Payne would have ample opportunities to win one-on-ones. He’d immediately feel right at home in Atlanta’s defense and would have no problem executing some of the more advanced twists and stunts that Quinn and Manuel love to use. Payne would be a good fit for the Falcons and would provide the team with another versatile piece against both the run and pass. With the current state of the defensive line, I think there’s potential for Payne to have an excellent rookie season in Atlanta.
Grade: 1 (first round)
What do you think about Payne’s fit with the Falcons? Does his lack of production at the collegiate level worry you? Who are some other players you’re interested in seeing in a Falcons uniform come draft day?