For­mer RB now runs them down

Vea’s ath­leti­cism, size put him in line to go in first round

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Nate Davis

The top de­fen­sive line prospects en­ter­ing the NFL draft:

1. Vita Vea, Wash­ing­ton (6-4, 347 pounds): Re­mark­able ath­lete for his size. He played run­ning back in high school and had a cameo at quar­ter­back. Vea has top-end strength, bench-press­ing 225 pounds 41 times at the NFL com­bine. That’s ev­i­dent on film, where he reg­u­larly walks of­fen­sive line­men into op­pos­ing pock­ets and takes down run­ning backs with block­ers draped all over him. Vea likely projects best as a two-gap nose tackle at the pro­fes­sional level, but he did man­age 81⁄ sacks over the

2 past two sea­sons. Needs to im­prove his in­stincts at the point of at­tack. Pro­jected: Round 1

2. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama (6-2,

311): He will get the dirty work done. Im­mensely strong — Payne can bench­press 500 pounds — he is go­ing to shut down in­te­rior run­ning lanes, should com­mand dou­ble teams and gets enough push on the pocket to flush quar­ter­backs to the edge rush­ers. He was rarely con­tained when an op­po­nent tried to handle him one-on-one. Payne does a good job bat­ting balls when he can­not gen­er­ate pres­sure. Ath­letic enough that he picked off a pass and had a re­cep­tion against Clem­son in last sea­son’s Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off semi­fi­nal. He had only three sacks in three sea­sons with the Tide, but his skill set projects him as a plug-and-play starter com­ing from a de­fense that con­sis­tently fun­nels tal­ent to the NFL. Pro­jected: Round 1

3. Taven Bryan, Flor­ida (6-5, 291): The J.J. Watt com­par­isons are a bit over the top, but Bryan does bring a unique blend of strength, ath­leti­cism and up­side to the po­si­tion. His frame could make him an ideal five-technique (3-4 de­fen­sive end), but he can prob­a­bly play ef­fec­tively in­side, too, af­ter spend­ing time in an NFL weight room. A highly in- trigu­ing prospect who sim­ply needs to har­ness his po­ten­tial so his pro­duc­tion aligns with his abil­ity. Son of a Navy SEAL. Pro­jected: Round 1

4. Har­ri­son Phillips, Stan­ford (6-4,

307): His 42 reps on the bench made him the 2018 com­bine champ for all po­si­tions. That’s not the only rea­son NFL teams will likely fall in love with Phillips. His size makes him scheme-di­verse, he has a rep­u­ta­tion as a re­lent­less player, and his wrestling back­ground — he was a three-time Ne­braska state cham­pion in high school — will serve him well in the pits. He’s not the most ath­letic player but gets into the back­field reg­u­larly, amass­ing 141⁄ sacks and 27 tack­les for

2 loss over the past two sea­sons. But what might re­ally dis­tin­guish Phillips is his in­tel­lect. He grad­u­ated from Stan­ford in

31⁄ years with a dou­ble ma­jor and is al

2 ready on the board of a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. Pro­jected: Round 1-2

5. Mau­rice Hurst, Michi­gan (6-2,

292): Light­ning first step. He gets ex­cel­lent pen­e­tra­tion, rack­ing up 101⁄ sacks

2 and 241⁄ tack­les for a loss (TFLs) over

2 the past two sea­sons. How­ever, Hurst’s size makes him a much bet­ter fit for teams that rou­tinely use four-man fronts. Could be a Geno Atkins clone if all goes ac­cord­ing to plan. Hurst was flagged with a heart con­di­tion at the com­bine, which pre­cluded his par­tic­i­pa­tion. He was later cleared and worked out at the Wolver­ines pro day. Bills DT Star Lo­tulelei over­came a sim­i­lar hur­dle and wound up be­ing a first-rounder in

2013. Pro­jected: Round 1-2

6. Rasheem Green, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (6-4, 275): Needs to get stronger but looks like he should even­tu­ally project as a base end, re­gard­less of scheme. How­ever, Green’s length prob­a­bly ide­ally tick­ets him as a five-technique. He might find him­self pri­mar­ily play­ing on pass­ing downs as a rookie af­ter rack­ing up 10 sacks and 121⁄ TFLs in his final sea

2 son for the Tro­jans. Re­ally good up­side. Pro­jected: Round 2

7. B.J. Hill, North Car­olina State

(6-3, 311): Four-year starter who aver­aged nearly 50 tack­les over past three sea­sons. Good ath­lete who’s quick on his feet but needs to get stronger. Posted only eight sacks for Wolf­pack, so Hill has work to do if he’s go­ing to get snaps on pass­ing downs. Pro­jected: Round 2

8. Nathan Shep­herd, Fort Hays State (6-4, 315): Na­tive Canadian who knocked around be­fore wind­ing up in the Di­vi­sion II pro­gram. How­ever, Shep­herd looked quite com­fort­able while fac­ing elite com­pe­ti­tion at the Se­nior Bowl. Has req­ui­site size to play on three- and four-man fronts. Pro­jected: Round 2-3

9. Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama (6-4,

297): An­other prod­uct of the Crim­son Tide pipe­line and an­other player with a wrestling back­ground. Hand’s size should al­low him to plug into just about any de­fense, but his tal­ent hasn’t jus­ti­fied fairly pedes­trian num­bers to date. Pro­jected: Round 2-3

10. Tim Set­tle, Vir­ginia Tech (6-3,

329): He won’t be 21 un­til July. Has un­com­mon quick­ness for a man his size, help­ing him record 121⁄ TFLs and four

2 sacks last sea­son. Set­tle might re­ally de­velop into some­thing spe­cial once an NFL strength coach gets his hands on him. Pro­jected: Round 2-3

11. Der­rick Nnadi, Flor­ida State (6-1,

317): Had dou­ble-fig­ure TFLs in each of past two sea­sons. Built low to the ground, he’s a hus­tler, a trait am­pli­fied by his quick­ness. He’s added some bulk since leav­ing Tal­la­has­see, which might en­able him to hold up more ef­fec­tively against big­ger play­ers and po­ten­tially earn a lot of snaps from his next team. Pro­jected: Round 3

Teams in need of de­fen­sive line­men

1. Red­skins: They fin­ished last against the run in 2017 and didn’t get much from first-rounder Jonathan Allen. Need to con­tinue re­build­ing up front.

2. Charg­ers: Al­lowed 4.9 yards per rush last year, eas­ily worst fig­ure in the league. Need stout ath­letic line­men who can clog rush lanes even when DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin In­gram are rush­ing wide off the edges.

3. Dol­phins: Time to reload af­ter let­ting Ndamukong Suh go.

4. Chiefs: Chris Jones is one of the game’s unsung young stars, but he’s not get­ting enough help.

5. Sea­hawks: Michael Ben­nett and Shel­don Richard­son are gone, and the de­fen­sive line per­son­nel ex­o­dus might not be over in Seat­tle. Pete Car­roll could use young, ver­sa­tile re­place­ments.

MARVIN GEN­TRY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Alabama de­fen­sive line­man Da’Ron Payne is pro­jected to be the sec­ond de­fen­sive line­man taken in the NFL draft.

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