Updated June 16, 2017
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.
An Alabama player being a top talent for an NFL draft is a surprise to nobody. However, a player who doesn't have a lot of production isn't always a preseason favorite to end up being a "top of the draft" prospect. While Crimson Tide defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne didn't generate a big stat line as a sophomore, team sources say they think that Payne is a special player who could end up being one of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-2, 320-pound Payne became the starting nose tackle for Alabama last year after the Crimson Tide lost Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson to the NFL. On the season, Payne, a first-year starter, totaled 36 tackles with 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and one pass batted. Sources say that they feel that Payne is a better prospect at this point than Marcel Dareus was at the same level of experience. Payne also had impressive 40 times this spring in the 5.0-second range despite being in excess of 320 pounds. One team source said that Payne is a monster and a top-5-10-caliber player in his overall ability.
It will be interesting to see how Payne develops in his junior season and if he ends up turning his potential into Dareus-caliber play. Payne was a five-star recruit, but the 2018 class looks like it could be strong at defensive tackle. Team sources believe that Payne has the potential to perhaps be the headliner at that position, however, and is likely one of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.