Editor’s note: Coming off its fourth national championship in seven seasons, Alabama returns a ton of talent, and has a great opportunity to repeat as champions in 2016.
Over the next few weeks, SEC Country will take a look at Alabama’s 25 most important players. Obviously, there’ll be coaches and other key members around the program who’ll 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 2016.
15. Da’Ron Payne
Payne was basically a starter as a true freshman. He played in all 15 games, and is credited with three starts. Payne finished the year with 13 tackles, including a half-sack and also a forced fumble. But the stats don’t accurately show Payne’s impact.
Payne consistently drew double teams, and was great at stuffing the run in the middle of the Tide’s defense. His play allowed Alabama’s linebackers to roam free and tackle ball carriers.
Payne stepped into Alabama’s loaded defensive line rotation and earned valuable reps. He was able to learn from A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and others during his first season in Tuscaloosa.
Gaining that experience last season puts him ahead of the curve mentally. Payne is one of four elite defensive linemen returning for Alabama, along with Jonathan Allen, Da’Shawn Hand and Dalvin Tomlinson.
But there isn’t a ton of quality depth behind those guys, which means there could be more snaps for Payne and others.
Coming Tuesday: A rising defensive lineman