Washington NFL team hopes Da’Ron Payne will stop defense leak

Fred Jeter | 7/26/2018, 6:05 a.m.
The Washington professional football team was dead last in the NFL in 2017 at defending the run. Nose guard Da’Ron ...
Da'Ron Payne

The Washington professional football team was dead last in the NFL in 2017 at defending the run. Nose guard Da’Ron Payne was specifically drafted to change that.

Washington fans are hoping Payne becomes a 6-foot-3, 308-pound wrecking ball smack dab in the middle of a three-man defensive line.

“Da’Ron is a perfect fit,” Washington Coach Jay Gruden told the Washington Post. “He was the unanimous choice (for No. 1 pick) in our war room.”

Payne, who’ll wear burgundy and gold jersey No. 95 this season, will be among the most scrutinized players in the coming weeks at the team’s training camp in Richmond.

The preseason training camp, located at 2401 W. Leigh St., opens Thursday, July 26, and runs through Aug. 14.

Help is much needed along what was a porous, injury-riddled Washington defensive line during 2017.

Despite a solid 9-7 record a year ago, Washington allowed 134.1 yards rushing per game and 4.5 yards per carry. Both statistics ranked 32nd out of 32 NFL teams.

Payne, who has signed a four-year deal with the team for $14.4 million, is known as a run stopper and also as a winner.

“I’m a relentless lineman,” he told the Post.

Regarding team play, he added, “And I want to bring a winning mindset from Tuscaloosa to Washington.”

Payne, a native of Birmingham, Ala., helped the University of Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide to three straight College Playoff Championship Games, winning in 2016 and 2018.

Last January, he was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player in Alabama’s 26-23 victory over the University of Georgia in the championship game.

At age 21, Payne impressed with his brute strength at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, bench pressing 225 pounds for 27 repetitions. While he didn’t run at the Combine, but was clocked at 4.95 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Alabama’s Pro Day. That’s pretty quick for a man toting more than 300 pounds.

This marks the second straight year Washington has picked a defensive lineman from Alabama with the top draft selection. In 2017, the No. 1 draft choice was Jonathan Allen, a defensive lineman and native of Leesburg in Northern Virginia.

Allen enjoyed a promising start before suffering a foot injury in the fifth game that required surgery. The 294-pounder is expected back at full strength as training camp commences.

Before Allen, the last defensive player chosen in the first round by Washington was defensive end Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue University in 2011. Kerrigan, who plays both line and linebacker, remains a top contributor.

Another defensive line candidate is free agent signee Anthony Lanier II, who is in his third season out of Alabama A&M University.

Washington plays mostly a 3-4 defense — two defensive ends bookending the nose guard — under second season coordinator Joe Manusky.

A year ago, the front and center of Washington’s defense was leakier than a rusted-out bucket. Payne has been assigned to stop the drip.

First round fraternity Washington’s first round draft picks since 2010

Season: Player, Position, Overall Pick, College

2018: Da’Ron Payne, nose tackle, 13th, Alabama

2017: Jonathan Allen, defensive end, 17th, Alabama

2016: Josh Doctson, wide-out, 22nd, Texas Christian

2015: Brandon Scherff, guard, fifth, Iowa

2013 and 2014: No first round pick

2012: Robert Griffin III, quarterback, second, Baylor

2011: Ryan Kerrigan, defensive end, 16th, Purdue

2010: Trent Williams, tackle, fourth, Oklahoma

Note: No first round picks prior to 2010 remain with the Washington team