Many people have started to slide Stephen Paea down draft boards due to an injury during Senior Bowl practice on the back of what people believe was a so-so senior season at Oregon State. I think this is a mistake. Paea faced constant double-teams in his senior season and still managed to win the Pac-10 defensive player of the year award and, perhaps even more impressively, the Morris trophy, an award given to the best defensive lineman in the Pac-10 as voted on by the conferences offensive lineman. Furthermore, Paea is relatively new to football having not played until his senior year in high school. His game is all about strength and disruption. Paea won’t wow anyone with great technique. His best fit in the NFL is as a 3-technique along the defensive line and should be drafted in the late 1st or early 2nd round.
If you look strictly at statistics, Paea won’t stun you in any category. However, put on the film of his games and you realize how disruptive of a force he can be. His ability is not necessarily of always making the tackle, but rather wreaking havoc in the play design by pushing his blocker out of position. His initial burst off the ball and strength at the point of attack are truly top notch. When he does get into a position to make a play he can be a devastating tackler. Paea notched nine career forced fumbles, a school record for Oregon State. He shows great hustle and effort in running to the ball. The problem with Paea comes in his short stature and arm length. He does not consistently show the ability to disengage once blocked and his relative lack of experience and technique cause problems when a play is designed to go to his opposite side.
If the bull rush is your thing then you will love to watch Paea rush the passer. But if you are expecting a vast array of pass rush moves then you will be disappointed. Paea is not a natural pass rusher, but instead uses his strength to push his way into position to make a sack. With more coaching and time perhaps he can add some more pass rush moves to his repertoire, but as of now he does not project to be a great pass rusher in the NFL.
Mainly due to a lack of experience playing football, I don’t find Paea’s awareness to be all that great. He can get fooled on misdirection plays and does not play with great instinct. He is not a read and react type of player. I do believe that with more time this aspect of his game will improve. And what he does have going for him is a great work ethic and ability to hustle that can’t be taught.
For a relatively inexperienced player, Paea’s hand placement is not all that bad and to top it off he has extremely strong hands. He plays with good leverage and keeps his hands inside of the blocker most of the time. His technique is improving with time as he learns the game more and more. At times his short arms cause problems even with decent hand placement which causes difficulty disengaging blocks. His strong hands allow him to be a solid tackler who can produce forced fumbles at a pretty high rate.
Size, Speed, Strength & Agility
Although Paea is quick, explosive, and strong off the snap, his game overall does not display much quickness or agility. He won’t run plays down from behind and also doesn’t display the agility to consistently make blockers miss. He displays average use of hips for a defensive lineman. Paea makes up for this slight lack in athleticism with power, and also a non-stop motor. He hustles to the ball and often assists in tackles a ways past the line of scrimmage. He is known as a workout warrior who can always be found in the gym. He holds nearly all of Oregon State’s weightlifting records for defensive tackles including: vertical jump (30”), shuttle (4.37), 225 lb. bench press (44 reps), bench press (550 lbs.), squat (650 lbs.), and clean (365 lbs.). He gets low in his stance and uses the power in his legs to be explosive off the ball. His initial punch at the point of attack seems to stun linemen who find themselves on their heels pretty quickly. He rarely gets pushed around and forces double teams since it is hard for one lineman to control him. Paea doesn’t have ideal size but he has a thick, muscular build.
Paea did not miss a game in his 3-year college career, although he was hampered by a bursa sac issue in his knee in the last month of 2008. At the Senior Bowl he injured his lateral meniscus in his knee which forced him to miss the game and will likely require surgery. A full recovery of the injury is expected.
Extremely humble, passionate, and driven are all words that could be used to describe Paea. A team captain in 2009 and 2010, he is well respected by coaches and teammates alike. In 2010 he was a candidate for college football’s Lott Trophy which is awarded to the top FBS defensive player who exhibits “integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity.” Not much more needs to be said.
Typical of players who come from areas such as Tonga, Paea is as tough as they come. He grew up as a rugby player before moving to the United States and taking up football. Then there is the famous YouTube video which shows Paea doing 44 reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press AFTER a complete workout. Teams know they will not have to worry about toughness with Paea. He plays strong and aggressive but not dirty.
Paea has the ability and work ethic to be a solid NFL 3-technique defensive lineman. His strength and ability to penetrate should make him a fairly sought-after commodity. Teams will be concerned with his relatively small size, and he weighed in at 295 lbs. at the Senior Bowl which is less than expected, and less than his listed weight. Teams will factor in his lack of experience knowing that he has much room to grow as a football player. It is debatable whether Paea has Pro Bowl type potential, but he should be a starter and contributor from day one.
2010: Played in all 12 games; compiled 45 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.
2009: Played in all 13 games; compiled 43 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.
2008: Played in all 13 games; compiled 41 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 1 forced fumble.
Sociology major who graduated in 2010.
Awards & Honors
2010: Named the Pac-10’s Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, All-Pac-10 first team, AP First Team All-American, winner of the Pac-10’s Morris Trophy, Sports Illustrated First-Team All-American, Sporting News First Team All-American, Bednarik Award semi-finalist, candidate for the Lott Trophy.
2009: Winner of the Pac-10’s Morris Trophy, All-Pac-10 first team.
2008: Named to the College Football News’ All-Sophomore Second-Team, All-Pac-10 honorable mention.
Paea played rugby in his youth in Tonga. Not highly recruited after high school, he played one-and-a-half years, one a redshirt year, at Snow College before transferring to Oregon State.
Paea’s cousin Chris Maumalanga played defensive tackle at Kansas and also played in the NFL for a number of teams in the mid-90’s.
Prospect Video Clips
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