Mel Kiper Jr. has Chargers taking DT Da'Ron Payne in first mock draft

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- In his first mock draft of the year, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Los Angeles Chargers selecting Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne with the No. 17 overall pick.

Kiper calls Payne the best nose tackle in this year’s draft. And with Brandon Mebane getting long in the tooth and the Chargers struggling to stop the run last year, Kiper believes the Chargers need some help up front defensively.

In his first mock draft released in mid-December, ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay had the Chargers selecting Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield as an eventual replacement for Philip Rivers.

Analysis of the pick: I like the fact that Payne played for the best team in college football in Alabama and performed at a high level. He also played for Nick Saban, so you know Payne is a tough, hard-nosed football player that should successfully make the transition to playing in the NFL.

However, one concern I have with Payne is his production. If you’re taking a defensive player in the first round, NFL teams are looking for game-wreckers -- players who sack the quarterback, make plays behind the line of scrimmage or take away the football.

At 6-foot-2 and 308 pounds, Payne finished with three career sacks in 35 games played and just five tackles for loss. He recorded an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a score.

Those numbers don’t exactly scream first-round pick. A player I do find intriguing for the Chargers who Kiper projects to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 11 is Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

At 6-5 and 250 pounds, Edwards was a Dick Butkus Award finalist, totaling 108 tackles -- including 14 tackles for loss -- and 5.5 sacks in 2017. Edwards has versatility as a player who could rush the passer or play in coverage in Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme.