According to ESPN’s Todd McShay (subscription), the Indianapolis Colts will select Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye with the 21st overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft in his recent mock draft 2.0:
21. Indianapolis Colts
Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
The Colts are playoff contenders right now, so I’d expect them to look for a more veteran option at QB — Wentz or Darnold jump to mind. Maybe Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw is the play, replacing Anthony Castonzo. Perhaps cornerback is a focus. But with three of the team’s top defensive ends out of contract — Justin Houston, Denico Autry and Al-Quadin Muhammad — I think replenishing the edge is going to be critical. Drafting Paye gives the Colts a playmaker (he had 8.5 sacks over his last 16 college games) and simultaneously blocks a division-rival with a big need in that place set to pick next.
Of course, it’s not the first time that Paye has been predicted to become the Colts selection at #21—as both ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah previously had him going to Indianapolis in a version of each’s prior mock draft respectively.
It also looks as though McShay has the consensus top 3 ‘non-Trevor Lawrence’ quarterback prospects going within the draft’s first five picks (Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields)—which doesn’t bode well for the Colts theoretically trading up right now to get a rookie passer.
“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.”
Here’s his scouting report via 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.”
McShay is correct that edge remains a critical need for the Colts along with starting quarterback and left tackle this offseason.
Both veteran starting defensive ends Justin Houston and Denico Autry are free agents, and joining them on the open market is rotational edge Al-Quadin Muhammad.
Meanwhile, while he’s flashed on the field at times, young pass rusher Kemoko Turay hasn’t fully recovered from a season-ending ankle injury two years ago—and needs to get fully healthy and consistently put it all together out there.
Lastly, 2019 2nd round pick Ben Banogu has had an underwhelming start to his early career, as he was a healthy scratch down the stretch for the Colts. He needs to take a big leap forward during his third season in 2021.
Regarding this past season’s Colts pass rush:
“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%.”
Therefore, the Colts were around a league average pass rushing unit in 2020, and their ability to get after the quarterback and generate pressure seemed to stall late in the season.
As such, Paye would make sense as a long-term pass rushing prospect for the Colts—although starting quarterback and left tackle could still take priority here at #21.