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2018 NFL mock draft: Can Da’Ron Payne fix the Cowboys’ defense?

After finishing in the bottom half of the league in run defense, the Alabama lineman is a fit in Dallas.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

A year after taking the NFL by storm with a 13-3 record, the Dallas Cowboys fell back to Earth last season with a 9-7 record. While most of the blame is due to running back Ezekiel Elliott missing five games, the defense often struggled. The Cowboys gave up 27 or more points in six of their losses last season, and the unit needs some re-tooling.

After only signing pass rusher Kony Ealy and linebacker Joe Thomas, those changes will need to come in the draft. The trouble is, after releasing Dez Bryant, Dallas also needs a wide receiver. They could use a guard as well.

Dave Halprin of Blogging the Boys is here to make the choice in the SB Nation NFL writers’ mock draft for the Cowboys.

19. Dallas Cowboys: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

Halprin: This was a tough choice as the Cowboys could have gone with a guard to fill the hole on the left side of their offensive line, or a linebacker where they need another piece after losing Anthony Hitchens. But the Cowboys also need a 1-tech in the middle of their defensive line and Da’Ron Payne represents good value at this spot in the first round. He’s a top-notch run-stopper and the Cowboys’ defense was soft in the middle of the line last year when they had to play Maliek Collins out of position. Payne will anchor the middle and absorb double teams to allow the linebackers to make plays. The hope is he will also be disruptive in the passing game by pushing the middle of the pocket and forcing quarterbacks to roll out into the arms of the defensive ends.

The Cowboys are creating a quality defensive line with DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, and they hope Taco Charlton will build on his improved play at the end of of last season. If that happens, and they drop Payne in the middle, they could become a force on defense.

Analysis: An argument could be made that Payne isn’t necessarily the type of defensive lineman that coordinator Rod Marinelli usually prefers. But the Cowboys can’t have another season of finishing 25th in the league in run defense and expect to make a deep playoff run. Payne fits a big need for Dallas, and was the best player available in this mock draft. He can occupy multiple blockers, and is an NFL-ready lineman coming out of Alabama. Payne may not offer a lot as a pass rusher but that’s not what the Cowboys need.

Dan Kadar’s top five players remaining

  • 19. Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA
  • 20. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
  • 21. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
  • 22. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
  • 23. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

The final pick of the day in the SB Nation NFL writers’ mock draft comes up at 1 p.m. ET with Jeremy Reisman of Pride of Detroit making the pick for the Lions.


What grade do you give the pick of Da’Ron Payne by the Dallas Cowboys?

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  • 34%
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    (119 votes)
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