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Mel Kiper Jr. Projects the Colts to Select Michigan DE Kwity Paye in his Initial 2021 NFL Mock Draft

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NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription), the Indianapolis Colts are projected to select Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye with the 21st overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft—in his inaugural mock draft of the offseason:

21. Indianapolis Colts

Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

With Philip Rivers retired and Jacoby Brissett a free agent, we know the Colts will be in the quarterback market this offseason. If they wait until the draft to make their move, they might have to trade up to get their guy. I don’t see a fit here. Paye is a tough evaluation. He finished his four-year college career with 11.5 sacks and had only two last season. But we know that the draft is all about size/athleticism traits, even when the production doesn’t match. And that’s the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Paye, who is a gifted athlete. This is an upside pick, and the Colts have a hole at defensive end with Justin Houston hitting free agency.

Regarding Paye:

“The 6’4”, 272 pound senior Wolverines edge recorded 16 tackles (12 solo), 4.0 tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks during 4 games—as an Academic All-Big Ten honoree during 2020.”

Per NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah:

“Paye has the ideal frame and explosiveness for an NFL edge rusher. He’s at his best playing on the outside, but Michigan had him moving all around their front, including playing head-up over the center. As a pass rusher, he is explosive out of his stance, but it looks different because of his short/choppy steps. I’d like to see him cover more ground, but that is easily correctable. He has violent hands to create a knockback, but he still needs to develop a better plan to consistently escape and finish. I love his effort and determination. Against the run, he crushes tight ends at the point of attack and can close in a hurry from the back side. He does have some stiffness in space, but he’s a capable dropper in the flat. Paye is raw, but there could be a huge payoff when he puts it all together.”

Of course, the Colts could use a long-term answer at pass rusher, as veteran Justin Houston is 32 years old and is set to become a free agent this offseason—along with starter Denico Autry and rotational defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad.

Meanwhile, 3rd-year pro Kemoko Turay has shown flashes of brilliance, but has been limited in his development and availability from a season-ending ankle injury suffered in 2019. Shaking off rust this season and still looking to get back to 100%, Turay has yet to put it consistently all together on the field—although his untapped talent and potential remain.

Lastly, 2nd-year pro and former 2019 second round pick Ben Banogu was a healthy scratch down the stretch for the Colts. He’ll need to take a considerable leap during his 3rd season.

The Colts ranked 12th (tied) in most sacks with 40.0 sacks this past season. Per ESPN analytics, Indianapolis had the 15th highest pass rush win rate at 42%.

However, there’s definitely room for improvement, as the team’s pass rush stalled at times late in the season—which can spell disaster for a defense that predominantly deploys zone coverage (especially against the league’s better to elite starting quarterbacks).

Paye is regarded as one of the top pass rushing prospects in this year’s draft class, so he could definitely help Indianapolis ramp up the pass pressure off the edge—that is, if the quarterback needy Colts actually keep the pick (with left tackle being a major need too).