The Redskins entered the three-day draft knowing that they would have to address their woeful run defense, which finished last in the NFL last year, surrendering 134.1 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry (fourth worst in the league). By adding Payne, Washington now has a 6-foot-3, 311-pound force in the middle of their defensive line.
Several players were “worthy” of the 13th pick, Coach Jay Gruden said at the conclusion of the first round, but in the end, it was a “unanimous” decision in the Redskins’ war room. Payne, he said, was “a perfect fit.”
Payne, a two-time national champion at Alabama, fully expects to bring his “winning mind-set” from Tuscaloosa to Washington.
“I’m a relentless lineman,” the defensive tackle said on a conference call with reporters from Birmingham, Ala., his home town.
Asked which NFL running back he’s most eager to tackle, Payne matter-of-factly said: “I’m trying to get after all of them.”
A flurry of stunning selections — including the Cleveland Browns taking former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward at No. 4, and three more quarterbacks coming off the board within the top 10 picks — set the stage for a perfect scenario for the Redskins. Each pick pushed standout defensive talent down the board and directly into the path of a Washington team with several defensive needs and plenty of players on their radar. Payne, for good reason, was one of them.
He was named first-team all-SEC, recording 53 tackles (21 solo), three pass breakups, a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and an offensive touchdown in 14 games as a junior last season. His strength lies in his run-stopping ability, and in an NFC East division that now boasts running back Saquon Barkley, who went No. 2 overall to the New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys phenom Ezekiel Elliott, the Redskins were determined to addressed a glaring area of need.
After the Miami Dolphins selected Payne’s former Alabama teammate, cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, at No. 11 and Tampa Bay chose Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea at 12, Washington had its choice of several defenders, including Florida State safety Derwin James and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. But Payne, who finished his career at Alabama with 102 tackles, including 39 solo, five tackles for loss and three sacks, was the Redskins’ man.
Gruden said Vea was “in the mix” and a player they targeted, but “when guys go before, you just cross them off the list.”
Payne impressed at the NFL combine with a 4.95-second 40-yard dash, the 13th-fastest time among defensive linemen. But while he’s a proven stud against the run, questions remain about his ability to be a bona fide NFL pass rusher. Payne, however, has no concerns about his game.
“I’m going to get after the passer and just dominate the run every chance I get,” he said.
Payne said his pre-draft visit to the Redskins felt “like family,” and he’s eager to reunite with his former teammates. For the second straight year, the Redskins selected a former Tide defender in the first round. In 2017, they drafted defensive end Jonathan Allen at 17 before taking fellow Alabama prospect Ryan Anderson, an outside linebacker, in Round 2.
Payne and Allen are the first pair of college teammates from the same position group to be selected by the same NFL franchise in consecutive first rounds since the San Francisco 49ers took Oregon defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
It didn’t take long for Payne’s new teammates to welcome him to Ashburn.
“Come on home baby!!!!” Anderson tweeted at Payne.
“Big Paayyyynnnnneeeee!!!! I love It!!!” safety D.J. Swearinger tweeted. “Welcome To The Defense Lil Brudda We Bout To Do Big Numbers Ya Hear Me?”
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