Name: Da’Ron Payne
Position: Defensive Tackle
Even against SEC offensive lines, Payne’s quickness off the ball jumps off the screen. When he shoots a gap, he is almost always the first one there, initiating contact and shedding blocks with ease. What is more, he is always in control of his movements. Unlike a lot of quick defensive tackles, Payne is constantly on his feet, constantly moving and pushing to get to the ball carrier.
Payne is not the type of tackle who plays up and down the line. Rather, he wins his battle in his gap, dominating with an immediate push and ability to shed blockers with ease. Because of his power, Payne faced a lot of double teams in college, but still got the best of most of them.
There may not be a better all-around athlete at the defensive tackle position in this draft. It was clear in the Playoff game against Clemson, where he intercepted a pass and also caught a touchdown pass on offense. He has excellent body control, explosiveness and great balance as he turns the corner.
There is none better. Payne has the ultimate combination of strength and quickness to keep separation, discard blockers and split double teams. One can count on a single hand the number of times this season that Payne was overpowered on a block.
This is where Payne could improve. While he excelled as an interior pass rusher in college, it was largely due to the fact that he is so much bigger and faster than everyone. He got by SEC guards with first step quickness and a great rip move. But once those first two steps were countered, Payne was typically out of the play. The initial burst is always exceptional. The counter to the counter could use a little work.
Payne’s strength makes up for some technique inconsistencies. Especially on passing downs, he tends to fire out high. His relatively short stature (6-foot-2) and strong arms allow him to get away with it, but this will have to be ironed out at the next level. Other than that, his game is impeccable. He hand fights well and his legs never stop moving.
The Vikings are looking for a good, all-around 3-technique who can rush the passer if they go defensive tackle in the first round. Payne played primarily nose tackle at Alabama, but most of his snaps were in the 2i-technique. Bumping over to the other shoulder of the guard more regularly is hardly a change of pace.
As a run-stuffer, Payne is the perfect fit in the Vikings’ defense. With Payne alongside Linval Joseph, running the ball up the middle on the Vikings would be nigh-impossible. Payne may not have the size of other run-stuffing forces like Joseph or Damon Harrison, but he has every bit of the ability. In that regard, Payne has star written all over him.
His pass-rushing is a bit more of a question mark. Payne’s quickness should be enough to make him a force, but his lack of a second move could spell some troubles. Theoretically, that is certainly something that can be coached. Payne’s raw ability cannot.
The issue for the Vikings is that raw ability may be enough to make Payne go as high as top-15. But if teams see his potential as a pass rusher as just potential, there is an outside chance he could fall to them at 30.
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