Prospect Watch: Stephen Paea

Fear not, back from the dead, but most definitely back is TOJ’s Prospect Watch.  This time around we will dissect Oregon State defensive lineman Stephen Paea, yes, the guy who benched 225lbs 49 times at the combine.  Paea, originally from the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago of 176 islands in the South Pacific Ocean, moved to the United States at age 16.  He played only one year of high school football, his senior year, before he attended Snow Junior College; so for those you have been keeping track at home, he only completed 3 years of organized football before he enrolled at Oregon State.

Some cite Paea’s lack of experience as a knock on him, while others can’t imagine his potential once he gets a full feeling for the game. One place his lack of experience has hurt him is his pass rush, where he has not been able to develop a full repertoire of moves.  This confines him to pretty much being a one-trick pony as far as getting in the backfield, however his one-trick, an overpowering bull rush, is one hell of a weapon and he has been disrupting Pac-10 Offensive Linemen since he put on a Beaver jersey in 2008. 

Like most late first round interior lineman prospects, Paea’s statistics don’t jump off the page. He is the two time defending Morris Trophy Award winner, which is an award for the best defensive lineman in the Pac-10 voted on by the offensive lineman in the conference, which shows a lot more than a stat line could.  He fires low off the ball and uses leverage from his, “bowling ball” frame to plug gaps and blow up plays in the backfield. 

As his combine numbers would indicate, he is considered one of the strongest players in the country, again, because of his leverage, he is able to translate weight room strength to on-the-field strength easier than other players who put up gaudy combine numbers.  His well above-average strength becomes blatant when watching him take down ball carriers, a stat that should raise the ears of the Jets front office is his forced fumbles, a career total of nine, which is an Oregon State record.

Paea’s run defense is absolutely where he will earn his playing time wherever he goes in the NFL.  He is a heady player who will engage and lock on a defender, but also knows when he is beat and will cause a pile before he gets blown up by a double team.  His pass rushing, however, is a different story.  As I said earlier, he lacks any real pass rushing moves other than a straight bull rush, and also will have a hard time tracking the QB down if the QB has any sort of athleticism. 

Paea plays a pure power game and is not very effective sideline to sideline.  However his biggest concern, unfortunately, is his durability.  He had a bursa sac in his knee during his junior year, and although he played through it, it is still a concern for NFL teams; especially when considering he suffered another knee injury at the Senior Bowl this year, which has limited his draft-season preparation and has hurt his stock a little as well.

It will be interesting to see what happens if Paea is still on the board when the Jets are picking.  If the Jets want to go the defensive lineman route in this draft it might make more sense to address the end position.  But Paeacould be the best lineman available at this time, in which case I would have all the confidence in the world in Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine to find a place for Paea to succeed.