2018 NFL Draft: Why Alabama's Da'Ron Payne could be the Falcons' first-round pick

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(AP photo)

*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.

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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.

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