Texans rookie DL Pheldarius Payne listed as ‘top’ undrafted free agent

What do James Harrison, Dick Lane, Adam Vinatieri and Kurt Warner all have in common besides being champions?

None heard their names called during the NFL draft and were forced to walk on once more as undrafted free agents. Slowly, they developed into some of the greatest players to ever grace the gridiron.

That’s what Virginia Tech defensive lineman Pheldarius Payne aspires to be with the Houston Texans entering rookie minicamp next week at NRG Stadium. The good news? One outlet believes he’ll have a chance not only to make the final 53-man roster but also see prominent playing time.

CBS Sports listed Payne as one of seven top-level undrafted free agents entering the summer. Coming in at No. 3, Payne exudes confidence and a ferocious play style that could move him up the depth chart with a promising offseason.

You can’t miss Payne the second you flip on the film for two reasons — he’s one of the smaller defensive tackles and he’s athletically charged up like an oversized linebacker. That first-step bolt is serious, and led to six sacks and 23 total pressures on a mere 162 pass-rush snaps at Virginia Tech in 2023.

And at his pro day — a hair over 6-2 and 286 pounds — Payne had a 4.86 time in the 40 and a ridiculous 1.65 10-yard split. He is the epitome of a one-gap penetrator. The Texans added a lot of high-profile pieces this offseason. But the defensive tackle spot is probably one of the weaker positions on the team, and GM Nick Caserio did not pick one in the draft. Don’t be stunned when Payne makes a name for himself early in camp and in the preseason, which should lead to some reps with the first-team defense.  — CBS Sports

Defensive tackle was considered a top need for Houston entering the draft following the departures of Maliek Collins and Sheldon Rankins. Most of Caserio’s deals with interior linemen came on one-year prove-it contracts. Veteran Denico Autry was a dominant defensive tackle with the Colts, but transitioned over to defensive end once he arrived in Tennessee.

Payne was expected to be a find on Day 3, yet somehow flew under the radar to the undrafted market. Second-year Texans coach DeMeco Ryans has a track record of getting the best version of undrafted rookies while finding a home for them in his defense.

Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair went from being a special teams standout to one of the league’s better sub-package defenders. Last season as a full-time starter, he proved his transition could work outside the Bay Area, totaling the fifth-most stops at 163.

Currently, the Texans have Foley Fatukasi and Autry as starters. Tim Settle and former undrafted free agent Khalil Davis are second on the depth chart, meaning Payne could compete with either for a boost up the rankings.

Payne has a long way to go if he hopes to be compared to names like Harrison or Warner, but everyone has to start someplace. There’s few places hotter than Houston these days, both in weather and persona.

Story originally appeared on Texans Wire