Pheldarius Payne comes to Virginia Tech by way of Nebraska, where he was stuck behind two better defensive ends. In an interview, sacks seemed like an important metric to him, and he wasn’t getting many chances at them, as he often got pulled from the field on passing downs. The Hokies seemed to appeal to him on two accounts. First, he’s from Virginia, being a graduate of Nansemond River High. Second, Brent Pry recruited him some. Combined with his talent and experience, those two traits also make him a nice get for a coach who values familiarity and home-team vibes.
Payne is a mobile guy, at least in terms of college choices. After high school, he spent two years at Lackawanna CC, then committed to NC State, before ultimately picking Nebraska. It was at Lackawanna that Pry recruited him to nearby Penn State, though the Hokie head coach says a shoulder issue kept him from offering. After a few years at Nebraska, Payne put his name in the transfer portal in 2021, pulled it out, then popped it back in the spring, where he reconnected with Pry.
To me, Payne looks a bit like the kind of player Cole Nelson could grow into, or Emmanuel Belmar in 2019. I’ve seen Payne called an outside linebacker, but he’s built like an even front DE, and he played like one for the Huskers. He was shading the tackle and coming off the line on nearly every snap—for the entire season he had a total of only nine coverage drops. He brings a power game to the field that helps him stall double-teams and take on solo blocks. You can see that physicality as he forces the kick-out block on two calls:
Regarding coverage, here he is in a rare drop against OSU: