Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye is a fun evaluation for the 2021 NFL draft. Blessed with a fantastic blend of power and twitchy athleticism, he has a chance to be the first edge rusher off the board in April. He’s a definite first-round pick, but how high will he go?
According to NFL.com analytics expert Cynthia Frelund, he’ll be a top-five pick. In her first mock draft, she has Paye headed to Atlanta at No. 4 overall.
“Paye flags as someone who will have a greater need for strong coaching than some of the other edge rushers to come out of the Big Ten recently; that is, he didn’t have as many consistently productive reps on every down as, say, Chase Young did,” Frelund wrote. “That said, pairing Paye with new Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees (who had great success in the past creating unique and efficient fronts for the Ravens, Pats and Titans) changes Atlanta’s ability to pressure pass-happy quarterbacks — like the ones they’ll face in the NFC South — A.S.A.P., with a lot of upside as the season goes along. Paye’s average burst when left unattended (measured by the time it takes him to travel 2 yards from the line of scrimmage) was the second-fastest in the NCAA this past season at his position (0.64 seconds).”
There’s no doubt Paye will be a highly-coveted player. I compared him to a Khalil Mack-lite in his scouting report and he’s currently ranked 14th on our Big Board (which will be released later this month). But I can’t see any way he ends up as a top-five pick, especially no with the quarterback-needy teams who will either draft one or trade-up for one in that range.
Those quarterback-needy teams could include the Falcons, too. Matt Ryan turns 36 a few weeks after the draft and while he has at least a season or two of quality starts left in the tank, the opportunity to draft his heir in either Justin Fields or Zach Wilson could be too valuable to pass up, even for a player like Paye who has as much pass-rushing upside as any defender in this year’s class.