At Alabama, defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne cleared the way for others to be successful. When he reaches the NFL, he’ll be making plays to fill his own stat sheet.
That’s the opinion of Matt Miller, Bleacher Report’s NFL draft expert, who was asked about Payne’s potential at the next level on Thursday morning.
“I think he’ll be better in the NFL than he was in college, because when you play for Nick Saban and he says, ‘You’re going to occupy the center and the guard so that Rashaan Evans and Reuben Foster can make tackles,’ you say, ‘Yes, sir.’ I think we’re going to see him unleashed a little bit in the pros.”
However, Payne made a splash in his own right in Alabama’s 24-6 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Jan. 1. The 6-foot-2, 319-pound Birmingham, Ala. native especially showed off his hands, catching an interception and a touchdown in the victory.
Then against Georgia, Payne made his presence felt in a traditional way from his spot in the middle of the Crimson Tide’s defense. That performance was one that Miller believes should have every scout salivating.
“He lived in that Georgia backfield. He shut down the interior run game,” Miller said. “He made [Georgia running back] Nick Chubb look almost undraftable, because Chubb didn’t have the speed to get away from Payne. He was just collapsing the offensive line play in and play out.
“In a year that’s a little weak as far as interior defensive line prospects, I would not be shocked if Payne is the first one off the board, just because we’ve seen him play assignment football and he’s smart, and he can handle different techniques. But he’s also athletic enough to make those splash plays.”