NFL Draft News & Notes: April 15

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

Defensive linemen are always highly sought after during the draft, but the crop this year is below-average. There are still some bargains to be found late in Round 1 and on the final day.

My affection for Da'Ron Payne is well-known, as I believe he’s the most underrated defender in this year’s draft, bar none. I reached out to see why teams do not rank Payne as an early first-round pick.

I’m told most teams love Payne the player as well as Payne the person but feel he’s a two-down defender and not much of a pass rusher, which is the reason Payne is not rated as a top-10 prospect by scouts.

It’s a criticism I would agree with, as we described Payne as a “small-area lineman” in our scouting report. He still makes such a big impact, much of which isn’t found on the stat sheet, that I stand by my belief that Payne is underrated and will turn into one of the better defenders from this draft two or three years down the line.

One defensive lineman sneaking up draft boards is Bilal Nichols of Delaware. We presently grade Nichols as a sixth-round prospect, but he could sneak into the fourth round. Nichols had a solid week of practice for the Shrine Game and turned in a terrific combine performance.

Teams feel that Nichols not only offers potential at defensive tackle but could also line up as a two-gap end. The small-school prospect has had individual workouts with the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Nichols will be on an official visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow.  As we noted during the combine the New York Jets had also shown a lot of interest in Nichols.

We’ve written about Jullian Taylor numerous times the past three weeks, and it appears the Temple senior is a lock to be drafted. Taylor was not graded by scouts entering the season and was not invited to the combine but now grades as a solid last-day pick.

Taylor has been a very busy man the past few weeks and will be busy through next week’s deadline for official visits. The sleeper lineman worked out for the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday and has official visits with the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans coming up this week.

As I posted on Twitter, Taylor worked out for the New York Jets on Friday along with UConn’s Folorunso Fatukasi. The workout took place at the Jets’ facility and was part of the local visits allowed by the league. Mike Maccagnan, Todd Bowles and additional top brass from the Jets organization made sure to be on hand to view the workout.

Keep an eye on Bruce Hector, South Florida's other dfesnive tackle.  He's a legitimate defensive tackle with an underrated game.  During Shrine Game practices I breifly mentioned a conversation I had with Deadrin Senat about his teammate.  I'm told Hector is receiving a lot of interest from the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers.