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Cowboys Senior Bowl Watchlist: Oregon St DT Stephen Paea

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Stephen Paea of Oregon State loses his helmet, but not his focus. With only four years of organized football, could he just be scratching the surface of his potential?
Stephen Paea of Oregon State loses his helmet, but not his focus. With only four years of organized football, could he just be scratching the surface of his potential?

A player that might be on the Cowboys radar is one Stephen Paea out of Oregon State. Considered a defensive tackle prospect of equal value to both a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, Paea was named to the AP All-American first team for the 2010 NCAA season. He is a two-time Pac-10 Morris Trophy Winner, which is voted on by the league's offensive linemen- so it's pretty obvious that he is the center of opposing teams' schemes week in and week out. He is generally ranked as the third best DT prospect behind Auburn's Nick Fairley and Alabama's Marcell Dareus. What I found very interesting is the fact that Paea (pronounced pie-uh) has very limited organized football experience. He's a former Rugby player that didn't line up for American rules football until his last year in high school.

Unfortunately, he didn't get a chance to showcase his talents in Mobile, as an injury on Monday has sidelined him from the practice sessions. It appears that he suffered a torn meniscus.

From Rob Rang, nfldraftscout.com:

Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea was not on the field Tuesday morning for the North Team's practice at the Senior Bowl.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Paea was sidelined because he was undergoing an MRI on his knee for a possible torn lateral meniscus. I've since confirmed with multiple sources at the South practice this afternoon that this, is indeed, the case.

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Originally projected as a mid-late first rounder, this injury holds the possibility to damage those expectations. A brief search for recovery times of other players that suffered the injury shows that each situation is different. Some players have played through the injury, others are out multiple weeks. It's possible he'll be fully recovered in time for Oregon State's Pro Day in the spring.

The Cowboys have been known to draft players with injury concerns that knock them down a few pegs from where their talent would have had them slotted. Paea would now be a prime candidate for this consideration, if the Cowboys are looking to add a space-eater in the middle of the line. Paea flanked by Ratliff and Bowen, flanked by Ware and Spencer could be just what this team needs to turn itself in the right direction. With Paea now a possibility for the 2nd round, that would allow Dallas to address other areas of concern with their first pick.

Here's draftinsider.net's report from the Senior Bowl:

Stephen Paea DL Oregon State Height - 6011 Weight - 295 Arms:33 1/3 Hands:10 3/8
 
Monday Practice Notes: Incredibly explosive and displayed great first step quickness.  Beat opponents a number of times yet could not get off blocks once linemen got their hands on him.
Tuesday Practice Notes: Injured.

Big board rankings before the injury:

CBSsports.com - 23rd overall, 3rd ranked DT

Drafttek.com - 29th overall, 3rd ranked DT

DraftCountdown.com - 16th overall, 3rd ranked DT

I'd imagine that Paea remains ranked on the evaluator's big boards, but you very well could see a draft day slide as teams would rather take the next best available player without leg injuries.

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From Rob Rang's nflscout.com profile of Paea:

Pass rush: Doesn't provide much in terms of a pass rush. Is able to split gaps due to his burst off the snap, but doesn't have quick feet or agility to chase down the quarterback. Relies on his bull rush to knock interior linemen into the pocket and flush the passer into the arms of teammates. Lacks the height and arm length required in consistently altering passing lanes.

Run defense: ... natural run plugger due to his short, squatty build and rare upper- and lower-body strength. Can be knocked off the ball when double-teamed, but flashes the ability to split them and is rarely pushed far before he's able to plant his legs in the ground and create a pile. Doesn't have the lateral agility and balance to beat runners to the sideline...

Tackling: Stays squared and low to knock down the ballcarrier near the line of scrimmage. Flashes explosive hitting ability, with a proven ability to knock the ball free. Tied the OSU record with four forced fumbles in 2009. Good upper-body strength to drag down ballcarriers as they attempt to go past him. Doesn't have the speed or change of direction to offer much in pursuit.

From OptimumScouting.com:

(Monday Notes):

-Both Stephen Paea and Ryan Kerrigan were solid today. Kerrigan was quick off the snap and had no wasted steps in pursuit, while Paea thrusted his hips well and changed direction well for a big guy.

From draftcountdown.com:

(Monday Notes): Oregon St. DT Stephen Paea really showcased his amazing strength and even claimed what would have been a sack in 12-on-12’s.

From Mocking Dan at SB Nation's Mockingthedraft.com:

Pass rush: Paea possesses excellent strength to bull rush offensive linemen back into the pocket. Has a good initial burst off the line. Is mostly a straight forward rusher and his only move is power. For such a strong player, you'd expect Paea to have a good rip move. You have to wonder some about his length and how it will hinder his pass rush in the NFL.

Run defend: Paea might not be the widest of bodies, but he is a rock in the middle of Oregon State's defense. He anchors especially well because of his lower body strength. He's hard to move off the line and routinely requires double teams. As a senior, Paea faced a lot of triple teams in the run game. Although he can anchor just fine, Paea's best spot in the pros might be a three-technique in a 4-3 scheme.

Strength: Paea is known as a weight room superstar and is one of the strongest players in the draft. His strength is evident in his playing style. If Paea gets good positioning, he can throw offensive linemen around or simply drive them backward.

Technique: Paea only played three years of football before starting his career at Oregon State. It shows at times in his technique. His hand use on the pass rush is inconsistent. He doesn't always get proper position to work his man and beat blocks. Nor does he always lock his arms out. Is a technically sound anchor against the run game.

So have at it BTB.  Does a second lower leg injury in the last few years make you want to stay away from him? Do you think he'd be able to hold down the fort in the middleof the defensive line?