The New Orleans Saints defensive line was one of the keys to the team's defensive turnaround in 2017. End Cameron Jordan has always been a star, but had his best season on his way to All-Pro recognition for the first time. The rest of the Saints line performed well to compliment Jordan. The team's pursuit of perennial pro bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had some wondering if the Saints intend on upgrading their defensive interior. Today's draft profile has a look at a dominant defender from one of the most storied programs in college football history.
Da'Ron Payne, DT (Alabama)
Payne was a national prep star and 5-star recruit from Shades Valley High School in Birmingham, AL, taking his talents about an hour west to Tuscaloosa and one of the elite programs in college football. He showed improvement in each of his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, saving some of his best performances on the biggest national stages. Payne had 5 tackles and a half sack in Alabama's loss to Clemson in the 2017 National championship game, then followed that up by being named the MVP of both of 'Bama's postseason games this past season on their way to the National Championship. He had a key interception and a touchdown reception in the team's semifinal rematch against Clemson, then had 6 tackles while dominating Georgia's offensive line during the Tide's title game victory. Payne performed well enough at the NFL Scouting Combine in March to likely solidify his position as a number one draft choice, and one of the first interior linemen taken off the board.
Payne has incredible natural strength and balance. He keeps a solid base, making him nearly immovable inside. Payne has underrated athleticism, and can often split double teams with a quick first step. He is a solid technician that maintains good leverage against constant double and triple team blocking. His ability to tie up extra blockers frees his teammates up to make plays, but Payne is a disruptive presence himself, consistently collapsing the opposing pass pocket. He does struggle to sustain a pass rush if his initial move is stopped, but had 27 quarterback pressures in 2017, up from just 15 the year before. He doesn't have great pursuit skills or strong change of direction ability, but Payne does excel at pushing blockers back into the backfield. He is impossible to run at, and has the ability to completely destroy the opposition's game planning.
Nfl.com comparison: Ndamukong Suh (Rams)
Da'Ron Payne may not yet be a dominant pass rusher, although he has the fundamentals to improve greatly in that area. At the very least, Payne is a two down and short yardage enforcer, who could immediately solidify the rush defense of any team that drafts him. The New Orleans Saints ranked 16th against the run in 2017, but ranked 28th in yards per rush, and surrendered large chunks at times. A player like Payne could be a wall in the middle with disruptive potential, thus improving every area of an already rapidly improved New Orleans defensive unit.