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Did The Redskins Make The Right Pick In Da’Ron Payne?

Galdi provides his thoughts on the Redskins’ first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft


1. I have a mantra for this Redskins offseason: you better be right – I believe that the 2018 season is a big one regarding the fates of Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden.  If the Redskins do well (and I hope like heck they do), those two will remain with the team for a while.  If the Redskins don’t do well, then I believe that Bruce and Jay will be gone.  And so I have viewed everything this offseason – the trade for Alex Smith, the conservative approach to free agency, now this first-round selection of Payne – with this mantra of “you better be right.”  Because, if you’re not, the team likely will do poorly, and you’ll likely be gone.

2. My biggest problem with the Redskins taking Payne at 13 is that this reeks of drafting for need as opposed to drafting the best player available – Personally, I would have taken safety Derwin James or linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with the Redskins’ no. 13 overall pick instead of Payne.  We have heard time and again about how the Redskins draft the best player available.  Bruce Allen said this in his sit-down interview conducted JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington at the NFL Annual League Meeting in Orlando on March 26.  Doug Williams said this as his pre-draft press conference on April 24.  And yet what did the Redskins do in the first round of this draft?  They bypassed James and Edmunds to take Payne.  Consensus opinion had been that James and Edmunds were better prospects than Payne.  Is consensus opinion always right?  No.  But the Redskins taking Payne at 13 when many, including Cooley, have said that Payne is more worthy of a first-round pick in the late teens or 20s came off like the Redskins just trying to fill a void.  That is a dangerous way to draft.

3. A secondary concern with the Redskins taking Payne at 13 is that they have spent a top-15 pick on potentially just a two-down player – Payne is a stud against the run; there’s no denying that.  But his pass rushing has left a lot to be desired.  He had three sacks in 35 career games at Alabama.  I know that sacks aren’t the only way and aren’t even necessarily the best way to judge pass-rushing productivity, but that kind of sack total is concerning.  And if you want to get away from just going by sacks, know that Payne ranked just no. 49  in pass-rush productivity among draft-eligible interior defenders in 2017 (6.5) according to Pro Football Focus.  Jay Gruden said on Thursday night that Payne will be the Redskins’ starting nose tackle.  The hope is that Payne can be a nose tackle who plays a ton, similar to Vince Willfork, who played on 81.3 percent of New England’s defensive snaps in 2012.

4. What you love the most about Payne is his ability as a run-stopper – He is tough to move off the ball, has tremendous upper-body strength by which he can control blockers, has great technique according to Cooley and is a high-motor player.  Payne may be precisely what the Redskins have been lacking on defense: a punishing, physical, relentless, run-stuffing beast.  Payne ranked no. 19 in run-stop percentage among draft-eligible interior defenders in 2017 (9.2) according to Pro Football Focus.  The Redskins have had a bad run defense in each of the last three seasons.  If you go by the Football Outsiders DVOA metric, here are the Redskins’ rankings in run defense over the last three seasons: 2015 – no. 22, 2016 – no. 24, 2017 – no. 29.

Da’Ron Payne/Photo courtesy of University of Alabama Athletics

5. There’s plenty more to like about Payne –  If you buy into combine numbers, he out-performed Jonathan Allen – 4.95 40-yard dash time versus Allen’s 5.00 and 27 bench-press reps of 225 pounds versus Allen’s 21.

Payne delivered in the two biggest games of Alabama’s 2017 season.  The Crimson Tide’s 24-6 rout of Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in the College Football Playoff semis included Payne providing a 21-yard pick-six and a one-yard touchdown reception.  Bama’s 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in the College Football Playoff national championship game in Atlanta included Payne setting career highs for pressures (seven) and run stops (six) per Pro Football Focus.  Payne was named Defensive MVP in both the Sugar Bowl and the College Football Playoff national championship game.

And Payne is just 20, as he’ll turn 21 on May 27.  This guy should be far from a finished product.

6. The biggest question with Payne is whether he can develop into a quality pass rusher and be more than a two-down player – There are two things to consider with this issue.  The first is that the Redskins have a highly-respected defensive line coach in Jim Tomsula who has helped to develop Matt Ioannidis (another high-motor player, by the way) and hopefully can work some magic with Payne.  A second thing to consider is Alabama’s 3-4 base defense, which may have limited Payne’s pass-rushing opportunities.

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