What Virginia Tech Is Getting With Defensive End Pheldarius Payne

Pheldarius Payne
Pheldarius Payne should play a big role at defensive end. (Nebraska communications)

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:

The blockers don’t get any push on Payne. In fact, Payne actually reduces the running lane a little in each clip. The OSU tight end in the first clip is Jeremy Ruckert, who was drafted in the third round by the Jets this season, and Payne absolutely demolishes him. You can see that same strength here as he pushes through a TE’s down-block on a pin-and-pull play:

I like his pursuit and aggression. Here, he’s part of a stunt that intentionally takes him away from a similar pin-and-pull play, but he fights his way back over:

That physical game means he’s not as effective rushing the passer, in coverage, and transitioning from coverage to pursuit…he even takes his time a little coming off the snap. He seems to favor the outside rush, but in the three games I watched he was chipped a lot, so it’s hard to get a feel for his strengths there. In his highlight video, at least, he has the most success swiping blockers’ hands in the pass rush, as opposed to other moves like arm-posts, bull-rushes, swims, and rips.

Regarding coverage, here he is in a rare drop against OSU: