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Daron Payne isn’t graded too highly by Pro Football Focus

Daron Payne has been one of the premier interior defensive linemen in the NFL this year and has earned a top payday this off-season. However, he hasn’t been graded too highly by Pro Football Focus this year. Is that a big issue?

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NFL: Washington Commanders at New York Giants Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Daron Payne has been one of the premier interior defensive linemen of 2022, racking up 15 tackles for loss which is tied for 1st in the NFL among defensive tackles with Jonathan Allen. Payne also has 8.5 sacks on the season, which ranks 3rd among defensive tackles in the NFL. Payne is undoubtedly having the best season of his career at an essential time of his career.

Pro Football Focus evaluates every player on every play during a football game. Per PFF itself, the grading system was founded on the principle of grading “production” rather than traits or measurables as a better way to describe it is a player’s “contribution to production” on a given play. According to PFF’s Senior Data Analyst Nick Akridge, Payne’s below-average grade of 59.2 this season does not match his production. “I think Daron Payne is severely underrated in our system; I get asked about it all the time.”

“A lot of times in what I talked about with him, his job is kind of a nose tackle - - to eat up blocks. So a lot of times when you see him or the defense playing well, you see [Cole] Holcomb or [Jamin] Davis being able to shoot their gaps because Payne is eating blocks. So for our system, if you are taking on a double-team and just holding the double-team, you are a zero [grade] for us.” Akridge has argued to PFF that stalemating double teams should be graded positively, but their grading system has not adjusted for that.

Akridge also stated that Payne’s spotty tackling has contributed to a low grade. “He sometimes gets these quick wins, but then he misses the tackle in the backfield. So we are grading him for the quick win, but we also have to grade him with the missed tackle.”

Payne’s seven missed tackles on the season are tied for the second-most on the team with linebacker Jamin Davis.

Nick Akridge is clearly a fan of Payne based on his evaluation, as am I, and this season has been nothing short of a success for the 25-year-old interior defensive lineman. But, at the very least, Payne’s PFF grade could be one indicator that he still has things he can improve upon, despite most knowing that he has ascended as a player.

Check out the latest Hogs Haven Podcast, where Nick and I discuss all things Commanders, including Montez Sweat’s impact on Washington’s defense, why Scott Turner’s system should be valued higher amongst fans, and how the Commanders end up making the playoffs. We also discussed the nuances of film evaluation and how that contributes to PFF grades.