The Indianapolis Colts made, in my humble and totally biased opinion, the best pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft when they selected edge rusher Kwity Paye from Michigan. Paye was the best defensive end prospect in this draft class with elite athleticism and character, so the fact that he slipped to pick 21 was a gift.
Since the Colts drafted Paye, I have been combing through his games over the past two years and have made cut-ups of some of his better games to profile his traits and abilities. So today, in this film room, we will look at those cut-ups and come to some conclusions about why this pick has the potential to be great.
Career Stats and Context
Kwity Paye played in 26 games in his career at Michigan. In those games, he totaled 97 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.
One of the bigger complaints I have seen about this pick is how does a team like the Colts take a pass rusher in the first round who only had 11.5 sacks in 26 games? Like all raw stats, these need some context. Here is my best shot at making you all feel better about the lack of sacks in college:
- Despite not coming away with sacks, Paye was disruptive on most of his true pass rush chances. For example, in 2020, Paye led this entire draft class with generating pressure on 23% of his pass rush snaps (Per SIS). For comparison, Kemoko Turay was the only Colts’ edge rusher who was over 13% in this statistic last year (Per PFF).
- Michigan runs a stunt-heavy defensive scheme. Paye’s responsibility more often than not was to barrel into the guard so the three-technique or the inside linebacker could loop back to the outside. He was basically a decoy on a lot of plays. When asked to purely rush off the edge, he was much more disruptive.
- Paye is a raw pass rusher. He has elite traits and flashes but he lacks a true go-to move at the moment. He will need some development but the fact that he was so productive without a true pass rush plan or go-to move is even more impressive.
Kwity Paye vs Indiana (2020)
Game Stats: 4 total tackles, 0 tackles for a loss, 0 sacks
Analysis: This game is a prime example of how box score stats don’t tell the full story. He came away from this game with 0 tackles for a loss or sacks however, he impacted so many different aspects of the game. He was disruptive and dominant off the edge, as he won with power and finesse moves alike. In the run game, he did a great job of holding up at the point of attack and also pursuing down the line when given the opportunity. He sped up the process of the quarterback all game long, and he would have had a few sacks in this one if it weren’t for a phenomenal performance by Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr.
Kwity Paye vs Indiana (2020)— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) April 30, 2021
- DISRUPTION. It's not just about sacks as a pass rusher, creating pressure and moving QB's is key.
- These tackles couldn't handle Paye's explosion or hands.
- Quietly dominant game without the box score stats to back it up pic.twitter.com/uSB2F7JYGS
Kwity Paye vs Iowa (2019)
Game Stats: 4 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks
Analysis: Now this is a game where the film and box score do align. This was a dominant performance for Paye, which also came against a line featuring two NFL offensive tackles (one being Tristan Wirfs). Paye showed real polish on a few of these rushes, especially on the inside move in the first clip. He was relentless in his pursuit in the run and pass game, which will fit in perfectly with the mindset of the Colts’ defense. He also gave a few good bull rushes to Tristan Wirfs, which is huge because Wirfs is an All-Pro NFL talent.
Kwity Paye vs Iowa (2019)— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) April 30, 2021
- High energy game, all over the field
- Won with a lot of inside moves. Speed and burst on display.
- Good couple snaps against Tristan Wirfs on the right side.
- 2.5 sacks in this one pic.twitter.com/scekdtiQuD
Kwity Paye vs Notre Dame (2019)
Game Stats: 2 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for a loss, 1 sack
Analysis: This was more of a decoy type of game for Paye, as he spent a lot of time stunting to the interior. It was a bully-ball type of game though, showcasing his power. He put Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks, and Robert Hainsey on their backs quite a few times in his pursuit of the quarterback. All three of those players were day two picks in this past draft class. Paye definitely needs to develop more nuance in his game to consistently beat a technician like Eichenberg regularly however, I do think this was a strong showing from him.
Kwity Paye vs Notre Dame (2019)— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) May 1, 2021
- More of a power game for Paye. Ran over Eichenberg a few times in this one.
- More of a decoy type but again showed great hustle and explosion pic.twitter.com/12HgNYOx2D
Kwity Paye vs Rutgers (2019)
Game Stats: 6 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks
Analysis: Another strong game for Paye where he looked like he was on another level from his opponents (I know it’s Rutgers so take it with a grain of salt). He won with speed and quickness rather than opting to use his brute strength. He was also stout in the run game, per usual. I loved the subtle nuances he flashed on some of his rushes, particularly the stab/club on his sack.
Kwity Paye vs Rutgers (2019)— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) May 3, 2021
- Clearly on another level from his opponents (it's Rutgers, I know)
- Dominant game against the run, powerful and quick all game
- Constant pressure off the edge, won with a few speed moves rather than power in this game pic.twitter.com/8o4NC8fWQZ
Kwity Paye vs Indiana (2019)
Game Stats: 1 total tackle, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 sack
Analysis: Another game that looks small on the box score but Paye dominated. He held the outside really well in the run game and was constantly harassing Indiana’s quarterback in the passing game. I started to notice his devastating push-pull move in run defense, and love the potential for that move to translate to the NFL. Also, this is the second game where I noticed the stab/long arm club move used to success. Robert Mathis specializes in teaching his pass rushers to work off of the long arm so those two should have a great time together.
Kwity Paye vs Indiana (2019)— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) May 3, 2021
- All over the place despite not having a great box score game
- Gnarly push-pull in run defense at the 0:15 mark (he does this a lot in run defense)
- Thinking long arm-chop needs to be his go-to after seeing the clip at 0:39 (BEND) pic.twitter.com/gSygoXxxgS
Kwity Paye vs Michigan State (2019)
Game Stats: 2 total tackles, 0 tackles for a loss, 0 sacks
Analysis: More of a disruption/run defense game for Paye yet again. He starts the clips with a really nice swipe move and then proceeds to wear down the offensive line with his power. His push-pull move stood out yet again in the run game and he worked really well off the interior three-technique position.
Kwity Paye vs Michigan State (2019)— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) May 3, 2021
- Elite game in run defense for Paye
- Push/pull move is a lot better than I have given it credit for. Makes tackles look foolish with it
- Continued JUICE off the edge pic.twitter.com/sLz7sWPFwM
Kwity Paye was an excellent selection by the Colts in this past draft. Defensive end was the Colts’ biggest need going into the draft, and coming away with the top player in the class off the edge is a huge win.
On film, he has elite strength and athleticism. The fact that he could thrive in a system dead set on deploying him as a decoy is still incredible to me. Against the run, he is a powerful edge setter with excellent hustle and energy. His awareness needs some work but hopefully, more film work with NFL coaches will help. As a pass rusher, he is still figuring things out but he is deadly when he is coming full speed off the edge. He flashes a lot of elite aspects as a pass rusher.
Overall, it may take a bit for Paye to get going with his lack of a true pass rush plan or go-to move. If the Colts can properly develop him though, he should be a top pass rusher in this league one day. He truly has top-end traits and the flashes to warrant that conclusion. It all falls on the Colts and Paye himself to see if he hits this potential. I loved the pick and think he will add a whole new element to this defense.