The 2011 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching, and senior Oregan State University do-it-all defensive lineman Stephen Paea, the definition of a one man wrecking crew, is ready to explode onto the NFL scene.
With the college season over, the only question for Paea is not whether or not he will go in the first round, but how high.
The following is a preliminary scouting report of Paea. It breaks down his pros and cons and gives a conclusion at the end. This is the second in a series of prospect breakdowns that I will release leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft, the first being Andrew Luck’s.
Pros: Paea grew up in his native Tongo with dreams of being a professional rugby player in New Zealand and a mainstay on the All Blacks. It wasn’t until a cousin told him of the higher monetary potential in American Football when he was 16 that he even heard of the game.
Unlike a lot of prospects that pick up the game later in life, Paea’s rugby experience made him uniquely situated to pick up American football quickly. First attending junior college before transferring to Oregon State, Paea’s transition to the defensive line from Rugby has been incredibly smooth, and not just because of his physical skills. Paea has a rugby player’s understanding of leverage and how to move bodies backwards when engaged.
Athletically, Paea is one of, if not the most athletic interior defensive lineman in all of college football.
Paea has truly explosive hips, to the point that his hip explosion will be NFL elite the second he steps on the field. This gives Paea incredible first step burst off the line of scrimmage, which, combined with his understanding of how to engage and leverage, makes him unblockable in one on one situations.
He has truly Herculian strength, and for a man who doesn’t clear 300 pounds or 6’2" to push 225 pounds 40 plus times is truly incredible; it’s what allows him the ability to throw offensive lineman to the side using just his arms.
Paea’s top end speed is also amazing, and given his acceleration, he has amazing pass rush potential. Paea also has incredible natural strength, giving him a lethal bull rush, swim and rip move. Paea is also very difficult to move backwards despite how light he is because of his incredible knee-bend.
Also a big butt and his short height give him a very low center of gravity. Paea’s athleticism makes him the best space defensive tackle in college football. In other words, Paea has the fluidity, light feet and explosion to move around the field like a linebacker and chase down plays that are nowhere near him.
Paea also has the rare ability for a defensive tackle to chase down and mirror running backs in space, so rarely will you see him whiff in the backfield once he gains penetration. Paea has short legs but very long arms for his size, making it difficult for offensive lineman to get into his pads and gives him a reach unusually wide for a man only 6’1".
OSU uses wide splits on their defensive line and moves Paea around—he lines up on the right side and the left side. He also showed the ability to play on the inside shoulder of the guard, as well as the outside shoulder.
Paea also plays with a motor that never ever quits, and his energy level never seems to go down; so not only does he play hyper, but also he stays on the field. Also, a common byproduct of players who pick up the game later in life is that they haven’t had the time to develop bad habits and technique against weak competition, as such Paea is unusually coachable and free of bad habits.
Cons: When Paea moved to the states and started playing football at 16 was also when he began learning English and American culture. While Paea has made remarkable strides in both his football ability and his ability to speak English, his adjustment to the NFL might be a tad bit more difficult for him than other prospects.
Paea’s knees will also have to get the green flag from NFL doctors as he has battled knee sprains during his college career. Paea is also a man without a position, as he is too small to play defensive tackle at the NFL level but he is much more comfortable playing on the inside of the line than the edge.
Physically, he is not suited to play in a two-gap 3-4 system.
My View: Paea’s road to the NFL is unique, and one that might cause his development to be a little slower than other defensive tackle prospects. The flip side to that argument is that there aren’t many prospects as naturally gifted.
Paea’s size will also give question to exactly what position he will play, but the option seems to be between him being a Warren Sapp-type under tackle or a Justin Tuck-type right end who shifts inside on passing downs.
Realistically, Paea’s knees are more concerning than his lack of football and American cultural experience, and provided his knees check out fine, he should be a lock for the first round with a possibility of even sneaking up into the top 10 if he posts a truly lights out combine performance, which I expect him too.