Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the most prominent voice in college football. After winning his fifth National Championship with the Crimson Tide earlier this year, Saban saw 12 of his former players enter the next stage of their careers by being selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Redskins selecting four players from Alabama over the past two years shouldn't come as a major surprise. When it comes to creating an NFL-ready player, nobody does it better than Saban.
"They play at such a high level, consistently," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "Their defense is good week in and week out. I mean, in the last three years, they've been to three national championships and won two. So that type of consistency against the best competition in college football, their defense stands out. They get the top recruits out of high school. These guys translate to great college players and then, for the most part, they translate to great pro players. You're going to see that here. Ryan Anderson is just getting ready to make his mark and obviously Jonathan Allen's going to have a healthy year next year and play extremely well [and] Daron. So we're excited about these Alabama guys but we're also excited about everybody else."
The Redskins selecting Payne and Hamilton was another move to strengthen the team's defense overall, but particularly against the run. Payne will rejoin forces with another Alabama teammate on the defensive line, Jonathan Allen, where they led the Crimson Tide to the No.2 rush defense in 2016.
Payne enters the NFL at a sizable 6-foot-3 and 319 pounds. While this may seem a rather normal size for an interior defensive lineman in the NFL, the journey to get where he is today has been a conditioning fight for Payne.
According to ESPN's John Keim, the rookie was at a solid 350 pounds during his playing days in high school, and trimmed his weight down to 320 pounds last year. The 30-pound loss was needed due to the speed required of Payne during the season against SEC opponents. The hard work ethic and determination of Payne to cut his weight down has put him in a prime position to dominate in his rookie year.
"With him controlling weight, working on initial quickness, getting to be a better technical pass-rusher, moving his hands and using his feet at the same time," Saban said an interview with Keim. "He's a driven a guy, so he'll do whatever you tell him to do, and he'll work hard at it."
The transition process for Hamilton to the NFL, meanwhile, will be a different challenge.
After suffering two season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons, the rookie linebacker is tasked with simply making the 53-man roster. This is not to say that his importance will be undervalued. Saban used Hamilton as the key signal caller for his coveted defense, and was also assigned with knowing where each of his teammates would align on the ball every play. Hamilton is a detail-oriented player, which is a trait not all players bring with them immediately after college.
“He is really, really smart and makes everyone around him play better,” Saban said. “Very, very instinctive. He plays with good power for his size because he’s not a great big guy, but he can strike out of his hips and has some power. His greatest asset is he has really good in-line quickness and is very instinctive. He’s about as smart a player as you can find.”