Conventional wisdom is that Washington’s Vita Vea will be the first defensive tackle selected in the 2018 NFL draft, but Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne very well may be the second.
Payne had an eye-opening performance at the NFL Scouting Combine – who knew a 6-foot-2, 311-pound interior lineman could run the 40 in 4.95 seconds and have a broad jump of 8 feet 9 – and skyrocketed up respected draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s list of the top prospects available.
In his post-combine rankings, Jeremiah – a former NFL scout who now works for NFL.com – has Payne as the No. 15 prospect in the draft.
“Payne is built to dominate on run downs right now,” Jeremiah wrote. “He has the athletic ability and power to emerge as a much better pass rusher in the near future. He helped himself at the NFL Scouting Combine.”
Payne was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and started three games as a true freshman, then was a fulltime starter as a sophomore and junior for the Tide; he bypassed his senior season to enter the draft.
NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein says Payne is “built like a wall of granite” and could become a Pro Bowl defender early in his career.
“Payne possesses one of the most impressive combinations of strength and athleticism that we’ve seen from an interior lineman,” Zierlein wrote. “. . . Payne is a game-ready starter who immediately upgrades a defense’s ability to slow the run.”
Alabama hasn’t had a defensive tackle drafted in the first round since Marcell Dareus went third overall in 2011. Payne is a lock to become the fourth Tide defensive tackle selected in the two rounds in three years; Dalvin Tomlinson was a second-rounder last year and A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed went in the second round in 2016.
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