Editor’s note: Alabama football returns a ton of talent, and has a great opportunity to make another run at the SEC championship and earn a College Football Playoff berth.
SEC Country will take a look at Alabama’s 25 most important players. Obviously, there will be coaches and other key members around the program who will have a big impact on the team’s success. But this list is strictly for the top-25 players for the Crimson Tide heading into 2017.
No. 4: Da’Ron Payne
If Alabama football is going to continue to have success against the run, it starts in the middle of the defense with defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne.
Payne is the lone remaining starter from the Tide’s vaunted defensive line a season ago, so a lot of attention will be on the 6-foot-2, 319-pounder from Birmingham.
Payne has been a key contributor since he stepped on campus. He earned freshman All-America honors from ESPN.com in 2015 during his first season in Tuscaloosa.
As a sophomore last season, Payne totaled 36 tackles, 3 quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Payne added 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Last season, Payne made one of the more athletic plays you’ll see from a 300-pound defensive lineman in Alabama’s win against Ole Miss:
Ryan Anderson strip sack, Payne recovery leads to a sad Ole Miss fan pic.twitter.com/dQnl7K2VTf
— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) September 17, 2016
Payne is one of a few Alabama juniors with an opportunity to leave school early for the NFL draft after this season. Payne is an animal in the middle of Alabama’s run defense. While he might not put up flashy stats, he’s in the trenches taking on double teams so the linebackers and other linemen can make plays.
Even as the NFL has become more focused on up-tempo offenses, teams still want a run stuffer in the middle.
If Payne continues improving his pass-rush ability, he could develop into a high draft pick.
Coming Wednesday: A versatile defensive back
SEC Country’s Top 25 Alabama football players:
- No. 5: Tide’s next great linebacker
- No. 6: A veteran offensive lineman
- No. 7: A lockdown corner
- No. 8: Tide’s next great offensive lineman
- No. 9: A hard-hitting safety
- No. 10: A key playmaker
- No. 11: A versatile linebacker
- No. 12: A veteran wide receiver
- No. 13: A key special teams player
- No. 14: An elite defensive lineman
- No. 15: A junior college transfer
- No. 16: A powerful offensive lineman
- No. 17: A young player changing positions
- No. 18: An experienced offensive lineman
- No. 19: A new sack artist
- No 20: A powerful linebacker
- No. 21: A young, explosive linebacker
- No. 22: An inexperienced offensive lineman
- No. 23: A veteran safety
- No. 24: Two talented freshmen
- No. 25: Tide hope he’s ‘special’