Washington take note: Da’Ron Payne is not a nose tackle.
That may sound weird considering he did indeed play quite a bit of nose tackle, at least in the four games I watched, but as the old saying goes, “Just because you can do something does not mean that you should.”
Could Payne play nose tackle in the NFL?
Of course he could.
But why would you waste his talent that way?
It would be easy for me to just go through his film and show you some good plays and a few bad plays Payne made while playing head-up on the center, but that wouldn’t have much predictive value, because I don’t see that as being his position in the league.
Washington, who drafted him with the 13th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, can call him whatever they want, under-tackle in a base 4-3, defensive end in a base 3-4, who cares? As long as they make sure he spends a lot of time lined up in the B-gap getting up the field in a hurry, they will definitely get their money’s worth.
What jumped out to me was that in limited opportunities, Payne was a helluva interior pass rusher. He didn’t have a single sack in the four games I watched, but I seriously don’t give a fuck about that. His get-off was remarkable, even in “heavy” alignments where he wasn’t lined up in a gap, and it’s easy to see how that can aid him as a pass rusher.
Looking at his ability to beat guys one-on-one, it is apparent that this kid has a ton of potential.
I would have loved to have seen more of Payne in alignments that were more conducive to showing off his pass rush skills, but, for whatever reason, Alabama decided to play him as a true nose tackle most of the time in the four games I watched. And, look, I get it. Nick Saban is all about winning championships. Payne playing at nose likely gave Alabama the best chance to win.
And win they did. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Payne did fine as a college nose tackle, don’t get me wrong, but he looked so much quicker when he was lined up in the B gap that sometimes it appeared the tape had been sped up between plays. If Payne had been lined up in the B gap more, there is no telling the kind of stats he might’ve put up last year.
Now, I’ve been focused on Payne’s potential as a pass rusher because that’s the kinda stuff that gets me excited as an analyst, but do not construe that to mean that Payne wasn’t good against the run as well. For what he was asked to do, I thought he did a damn good job for the Crimson Tide.
I actually respect the hell out of him for playing his ass off at nose when Payne had to know his pass rushing abilities would be much harder to showcase there. Instead of worrying about his draft stock, he just went out there and busted his ass, and his team was better off for it.
He wasn’t perfect at nose, but he was by no means a slouch, either.
Whether he was double teamed or if an opponent were crazy enough to try to single block him with the center, Payne found ways to make an impact against the run. He did a lot of the grunt work that goes unnoticed, but that allowed his teammates to make a lot of plays.
Technique wise, his hand placement was consistently outstanding, almost always getting them both inside and on his opponent’s chest, allowing him to get extension with his arms and control the blocker before tossing them by the wayside to make a play on the ball carrier.
That is certainly something that should carry over well once he makes it to the league, no matter where he lines up.
In some ways, playing so much nose tackle probably made Payne into a much better run defender all over the defensive line. Combine that with his size at 6’2, 311 pounds and his athleticism and you have the makings of a pretty good interior defensive lineman there.
I do have a few concerns, however.
Payne’s motor, for instance, wasn’t quite at the level I thought it could be at times.
It’s not like he was loafing all over the field, but on a few plays it just looked like he could have finished a little better.
One of those just so happened to have been a potential sack, too.
I don’t know that there is a particular issue there, but I like to see guys make plays when they have an opportunity. Missed tackles and especially missed sacks irk the shit out of me. It happens to everybody, no doubt, but it’s just a pet peeve of mine.
The reality is that those are all relatively minor concerns. The overall picture I see of Payne based on his tape is of a guy who is ready to really blossom as a pro.
If he is drafted by a team that allows him to line up in the gaps and use that ridiculous get off to put pressure on opposing offensive linemen on damn near every snap, they will unleash Payne’s full potential on the rest of the league. Man, that would be something to see.
I can see Payne being a guy that hovers somewhere around double-digit sacks every year if he can stay healthy. Might be just below 10, maybe a little bit above it, but Da’Ron Payne is going to eat, and eat well, in the NFL provided he is allowed to get after the passer.
If Washington drafted him to play nose tackle, he’ll still do a good job, but it will be much harder for him to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, just like it was in college. I don’t think there is any doubt that Payne has the skills and physical traits that you want to see in a first-round defensive tackle. How high he goes will be contingent on how much teams value his potential as a pass rusher.
For me that would be right around where Washington snagged him at No. 13.
Since I don’t have access to all-22 for college football games, I use the next best thing for my draft profiles and go to Draft Breakdown where they post the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects’ games already cut up and ready to go. This time Draft Breakdown only had two of Da’Ron Payne’s games from last season on their website, so I had to use Google to find two more (Clemson and Georgia). For the purposes of this breakdown I watched Sutton play against Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Clemson, and Georgia. Those represented the fourth, eighth, 13th, and 14th games on Alabama’s schedule last season, respectively.