The NFL Draft is less than two weeks away, which means that all of the prospect projections over the last few months will soon end and become different conversations entirely. One that still has legs for Redskins fans, and one which won't really even be resolved until the season, is whether the team should select University of Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea or Alabama defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne.
The player comparison exists mostly because both of them are likely to leave the board before the end of the first round. The Redskins, of course, have other needs and ideas about how they want to approach the draft, potentially making this either/or scenario a moot point. Regardless, the defensive line is an area the Redskins would like to bulk up even more, and drafting one of these two players would fulfill that desire.
On a recent conference call with reporters, NFL Network draft analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks teamed up to answer questions and focused on the Redskins' potential choice with the 13th pick for one of these players.
On paper, Vita's stats stand out more. As Redskins.com has chronicled through Mock Draft Madness, Vea appeared in 40 games recording 100 tackles (15 for loss), along with 9.5 sacks, six passes defensed and two fumbles forced over three years. Payne, meanwhile, appeared in 44 games and recorded 102 tackles (five for loss) along with six passes defensed, three sacks, two fumbles recovered, one forced fumble and one interception in three years.
Jeremiah, who has Vea ranked as his 11th best player and Payne as his 18th, explained some of the traits he likes about both.
"I was in Baltimore when we drafted Haloti Ngata, was covering the West Coast during that time," Jeremiahs said. "And he reminds me so much of Haloti. You play him up and down the line of scrimmage, they move him all over the place. He's got a nasty hump move as a pass rusher; you can see that physical power. You watch him just stack and toss offensive linemen. The Stanford game especially was just nasty. He can really roll his hips and he's got tremendous power as a run defender. And I think he does have upside as a pass rusher. You just look at his athleticism; we talked about making a tackle on punt coverage. He's blocked a punt. I remember watching Haloti block a punt against Arizona. He reminds me of Haloti Ngata."
Payne collected just one tackle for a loss last year, which has caused some trepidation about why his production hasn't equaled what scouts see in him.
"The production hasn't always matched the ability but he is strong, he's athletic," Jeremiah said. "You watch the Clemson game and see the interception, he has there, he shows that off a little bit. Really quick hands. I think he's got a little bit of stiffness in his ankles. That's one of the only knocks I had on him. But he plays hard and he's a really intriguing player. So I think he's got a little more to offer as a pass rusher as well. I think both these guys will show you more in that regard at the next level."
Brooks agreed with Jeremiah's assessment of Vea, referring once again to a tackle he made during a punt return in the Fiesta Bowl.
"He offers something that you just can't find – a big guy who's a run stopper who may be able to do more than just become a pocket pusher in the passing game," Brooks said.
Despite Payne's numbers not being as immediately impressive, Brooks thinks some of his final games of last season show the real nature of Payne's ability and projection as a strong interior lineman.
"It really depends on which Da'Ron Payne shows up on your doorstep because he's talented," Brooks said. "We saw him dominate throughout the College Football Playoffs, not only against the runs but with consistent presence as a pass rusher. If that guy shows up, that guy could be a difference maker. I think if you're the Washington Redskins, you're having to consider between both guys. It really comes down to fitting the scheme. I think both these guys fit. I think you can really be happy with both those guys as interior guys being able to get it done in your defense."