*Editor's note: This is the sixth of seven prospect profiles who the Falcons could select with the 26th overall pick in the first round. *
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have one of the league's most talented rosters, but there are a few positions that they may target with the No. 26 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
At the forefront of those positions is defensive tackle. The Falcons lost starter Dontari Poe in free agency, and they have not opted to re-sign Ahtyba Rubin or Courtney Upshaw at this point, although that doesn't indicate they won't in the future. The return of Jack Crawford from injury will be a welcome one, but it's clear the Falcons need to add depth and talent along the interior of the defensive line.
There are a number of interesting defensive tackles in this year's draft class, and Alabama's Da'Ron Payne is one who has been linked to the Falcons in a number of mock drafts. NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks recently mocked Payne to the Falcons, here is what he had to say about his choice:
"The rugged interior defender with outstanding strength and power fills a void in the middle of the Dirty Birds' defense. Payne is a rock-solid run defender with pass-rushing skills."
The 6-foot-2, 311-pound Payne was a steady contributor for Alabama over the past two seasons. In his sophomore and junior seasons, Payne registered a combined 89 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one interception and one touchdown.
Payne is a strong interior defender who has proven difficult to move off his spot, even against double teams. When he has leverage against a blocker, Payne's strength is a great advantage and he can often knock an offensive lineman backwards into the backfield or control him to find the running back and make a tackle.
Although Payne's college sack total was fairly low, he is a player who could offer more upside in that area than his stats would suggest. He has a pretty quick get-off at the snap, and his hand usage against offensive linemen improved during his time at Alabama. Combining his natural bull-rushing ability with greater refinement of his other pass-rush techniques could make him a well-rounded defensive tackle at the next level.
via GIPHY Payne already looks like an NFL-caliber run defender, but he flashed enough as a pass-rusher on film to believe he has good upside in that aspect of his game as well. If he becomes a player who can collapse the pocket on passing downs, Payne could be a significant addition to the Falcons' defensive line.