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NFL draft prospect to know: Daron Payne, DT, Alabama

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The Cowboys want a big defensive tackle. Could that be Alabama’s Daron Payne?

Blogging The Boys will begin taking a look at some of the NFL Draft prospects that will be in the 2018 NFL Draft class. We’ll try to do this on a Friday night or Saturday morning so you can pay attention to that player in their next game if you should so choose. Some weeks, we will look at potential targets that will be within the Cowboys’ expected draft range. Others, we will highlight some of the elite members of the class.

We are in week nine of the NFL season! The New York Jets kicked the week off with a big 34-21 win over divisional rival Bills. Most of the talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys before Sunday’s game against the Chiefs (and the return of Tony Romo) is centered around Ezekiel Elliott. After initially not expected to play for the next six games, Elliott will instead suit up against one of the better teams across the league. A big boost for a Cowboys team wanting to make a late-season run for the playoffs.

Other related Cowboys news was the trade deadline that passed last week. Mike Fisher of CowboysHQ reported that the front office was not interested in a big splash move, but they were instead interested in bringing in a “wide body” defensive tackle. Presumably, to help the run defense that has had its troubles this season — especially without Sean Lee in the lineup.

The Cowboys were unable to find one through a trade. Marcell Dareus was traded to the Jaguars, and the Cowboys opted to hold onto draft capital rather than overspending for a short-term fix. Last week, I wrote that perhaps Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst could be an attractive option in the draft; however the Cowboys may opt to go with somebody larger than Hurst’s 6-foot-2 and 280-pound frame. If so, here is one attractive candidate for Cowboys fans to keep an eye on.

Daron Payne — defensive tackle, Alabama Crimson Tide

6-foot-2
308
Junior

CFP National Championship Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Daron Payne has not received the same amount of draft love that other interior defensive lineman, such as Dre’Mont Jones and Hurst (we have also covered both), but the Alabama defensive lineman is as good at clogging up the middle as any in the upcoming draft.

BTB reader/commenter Sean N suggested that I take a look at Payne. As a big college football fan, I have followed Payne dating back to his high school days. He is a big-bodied defensive tackle that has a high ceiling to grow into even more of a dominant player as he continues to learn and develop.

Payne arrived to Tuscaloosa as one of the most sought after recruits in his high school class, ranked as a five-star on numerous recruiting services. He quickly began to make a solid contribution from the nose tackle position for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

As a freshman, Payne played in eight games for the best program in college football. He recorded just 13 total tackles on the season, but he also recorded 0.5 TFLs and 0.5 sacks in a limited role on a talented defense. His season earned him Freshman All-American honors by ESPN, and he was already becoming a nightmare for offenses across the Southeastern Conference. As a sophomore, though, the Birmingham, Alabama, native became even more of a factor for one of the most dominant defenses in the sport.

Payne played in five more games in 2016 than he did in 2015; naturally, his numbers improved across the board, but so did his play. Payne total tackle number nearly tripled as he racked up 36 tackles in 2016. His tackle-for-loss and sack numbers also jumped up after a season of experience under his belt, improving to 3.5 and 1.5 each. He even recovered a fumble for a touchdown against the Ole Miss Rebels in an impressive come-from-behind victory.

Payne’s most impressive performance of his sophomore season came when the lights are the brightest: the National Championship Game against Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers’ high-powered offensive attack. The big nose tackle recorded a career high five tackles, got to Watson once for a sack, and was a big factor in limiting Clemson’s run game to less than 100 yards. It was the kind of performance that surely makes scouts drool about what Payne can do at the next level.

The big Alabama interior monster has continued his impressive play this season. Through eight games, Payne has already totaled 30 tackles and matched his freshman season’s TFL and sack numbers. He has been one of the best players on perhaps the best defense in all of college football.

Assuming the Cowboys bring back Demarcus Lawrence by either signing him to a long-term deal or by simply placing the franchise tag on the star pass rusher, Dallas could suddenly have a scary good front four with the addition of Payne. Lawrence has been the team’s MVP so far this season, David Irving already has totaled five sacks in just three games (!), and the staff is very high on Maelik Collins. Adding a big-bodied interior lineman like Payne to that group would be very fun to watch.

Payne is not a guy that is unanimously considered to be a first-round draft pick just yet, but I would not be surprised if he climbs up draft boards as the process progresses. He may not jump off the screen with tons of flashy plays, but he is always there to clog the middle up.





What do you think, Cowboys Nation?

*Gifs from Draft Breakdown and M&M Productions; stats gathered from sports-reference.com

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