NFL Draft

2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne

From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#94 Da’Ron Payne/DT/Alabama 6’2”, 308 Lbs

The Good

-Fast, powerful hands that shoots quickly against blockers
-Fluid mover for a man of his size
-Impressive natural strength in upper and lower body
-Good burst off the ball with a lot of power behind it
-Elite run stuffer thanks to good balance and impressive body control
-Offenses have to scheme against him to negate him against the run
-Bull rush is nearly unstoppable due to power

The Bad

-Motor runs hot and cold snap-to-snap throughout games
-Conditioning could be an issue at the next level
-Struggles with pad level consistency on a per snap basis
-When initial pass rush move is stopped, he grinds to a halt
-Slow to get off blocks at times; gets locked into fighting with lineman rather than finding the ball a few times a game
-Doesn’t chase backs down the line often


-Selected as the Defensive MVP of the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game
-Earned Second Team All-America accolades from the American Football Coaches Association
-Named a First Team All-SEC honoree by the Associated Press while also earning second-team recognition from the coaches
-Totaled 53 tackles in 2017, 45 of which came against the run
-Recorded one sack in 2017 while adding team-high eight quarterback hurries, three pass breakups, an interception and one fumble recovery

Tape Breakdown

Whichever interior defensive lineman you want to label number one in the 2018 NFL draft class between Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne and Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, you truly can’t go wrong.

Payne came into Alabama’s elite program weighing well north of 350 pounds, but after three seasons of hard work, Payne dropped down to a shade over 300 pounds and actually became a better run stuffer in the middle of an elite Crimson Tide defense.

The 6-foot-2, 308-pound defensive tackle might be the strongest defensive player in this draft class, and there’s a case for that label on every snap for Payne, who simply overpowers offensive linemen left and right.

While he’s not only strong as an ox, he’s exceptionally quick for his size, which leads me to believe that he can play as a two-gapping defensive tackle, or simply dominate opposing offenses as a gap-shooting tackle, a la Aaron Donald.

In fact, Payne reminds me a ton of Donald, despite being nearly 25 pounds heavier than the star Rams defensive tackle.

Take a look at the way Payne beats the Georgia guard here in the national championship game. I know that I wrote Payne will rarely chase backs down the line of scrimmage to make plays, but he really seemed to start to do that once the playoff started.

Once he beats the Georgia guard cleanly, Payne has the athleticism to cover ground to his left, tracking down Nick Chubb near the line of scrimmage for the stop.

I’m blown away with how quickly Payne moves latterly, not only when beating the block, but tracking down Chubb as well.

When he’s two-gapping against the run, he uses his brute strength exceptionally well, tossing linemen around to make plays.

That’s Colorado State center Jake Bennett he tosses backwards for the stop in the hole. Bennett is no slouch, considering he was the top center in the Mountain West Conference. Payne simply engages, stands up Bennett and rides him out to the designed hole before then shoving him backwards onto his butt to make the play on the Colorado State running back.

Although Payne isn’t very explosive out of his stance often, when he is locked in and the motor is running hot, he’s a bear to deal with along the line of scrimmage. His lower half is so strong that when he explodes out of his stance, there’s a great chance the opposing offensive lineman is going for a ride backwards.

The first clip is from the national championship game against Clemson two seasons ago. Pinned deep in their own end, Clemson has to run the ball here, and Payne knows it.

While he doesn’t make a play on the running back, he absolutely blows up the timing of the play by steamrolling the Clemson center backwards nearly into the legs of the running back and Deshaun Watson.

The second clip is again from this season’s national championship game against Georgia. Look at the jump forward by Payne at the snap, throwing his hands into the Georgia’ lineman’s chest, stunning him backwards. From there, Payne is able to stick one of his big, meaty paws out to grab Sony Michel around the chest, wrestling him to the ground.

Overall, I believe Payne is a day one plug-and-plug defensive tackle who will help change a defense’s outlook against the run, while also bringing some juice as a pass rusher. While he’s not consistent enough with his pass rush moves, he has lightning-quick hands and an explosive lower body.

The right coaching at the next level that focuses more on his pass rushing abilities could unlock the potential for the guy to average 5-6 sacks a season in the middle of a 4-3 defense.

Projection:  Mid-Day 1

Games Watched:  vs. Mississippi State (’16), vs. Clemson (’17), vs. Fresno State (’17), vs. Colorado State (’17), vs. Tennessee (’17), at Vanderbilt (’17), vs. Clemson (’18), vs. Georgia (’18)


Previous 2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Sam Darnold Garret Dooley Calvin Ridley Fred Warner Ronald Jones II
Maurice Hurst Mike McCray DeShon Elliott  Malik Jefferson Ogbo Okoronkwo
Trayvon Henderson Josh Rosen Ronnie Harrison Kallen Ballage Cedric Wilson Jr.
Micah Kiser Will Hernandez Leighton Vander Esch Josh Allen   Harold Landry
Marquis Haynes  Tremaine Edmunds Kerryon Johnson Lorenzo Carter  Sony Michael
Kyzir White  Rashaan Evans  Tegray Scales  Isaac Yiadom  Jeff Holland
 Rashaad Penny John Kelly Bo Scarbrough  Roquan Smith  Durham Smythe
 Mark Walton  Josey Jewell  PJ Hall  Dorian O’Daniel  Josh Adams
 Leon Jacobs  Marcus Davenport  Jack Cichy  Royce Freeman  Nick DeLuca
 Vita Vea  Vita Vea  Mason Rudolph  Shaun Dion Hamilton  MJ Stewart
 Derwin James  Kameron Kelly  Justin Reid  Sam Hubbard


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