Michigan senior edge defender Kwity Paye has enjoyed a meteoric rise up the 2021 NFL draft board this season despite appearing in just four games. Paye’s combination of size and athletic ability has him trending as one of the most desirable edge rushers in this year’s class, and his tape suggests that desire is warranted.
Paye appeared in 38 games during his Wolverines career, including 20 starts. He was named an Academic All-Big 10 honoree in 2020 and finished the year with 16 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks (in that four-game sample size). For his career, Paye totaled 97 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. Paye was voted team captain by his teammates in 2020.
Prior to arriving at Michigan, Paye was regarded as a four-star prospect by ESPN and the No. 26 defensive end recruit in the nation. He has a high school track background and was a member of his state championship 4×100 meter relay team. He won the state championship in the long jump, too. Needless to say, Paye is a rare athlete.
His background is pretty rare, too. Paye, who was born in Guinea, is the son of Liberian refugees. His mother’s struggles to get to the United States are well-documented here and well worth a read to get a better sense for the extra chip that he’s is playing with. Those things matter. Paye will have the necessary ‘want-to’ to succeed.
Physically, Paye is an impressive-looking prospect at 6-4, 277 pounds. He has a thick and stocky build that he carries effortlessly on the field. He doesn’t move like a guy pushing 280 pounds. If you didn’t know his measurables before watching his tape, you’d think he was more like 250 pounds. Paye’s length is adequate, although he doesn’t possess the kind of long limbs that the truly elite pass-rushers usually have.
Athletically, Paye is an explosive and twitchy edge defender who has a fantastic first step off the line of scrimmage and the kind of lateral movement skills required to change directions when hunting ball carriers. His straight-line speed is top-notch for his position and makes him a capable defender in pursuit even when chasing fast running backs and quarterbacks.
As a pass rusher, Paye possesses a variety of pass-rush moves that are still in their formative stages. He’s most effective as a power player. He has extremely strong hands and his upper-body power is evident. When he shoots his hands into the opposing offensive linemen’s chest plate, he locks out with ease and immediately puts him on skates. He stacks and sheds the way you’d expect a first-round prospect to do. His push-and-pull is effective, and he flashes nice swim and rip moves as well. He just needs more reps to unlock his special potential.
Paye has a high motor as a pass-rusher. He remains active throughout the play and will make a living in opponents’ backfields on effort and hustle alone. He doesn’t give up, even when he appears neutralized at the beginning of the play. His ability to chase down and close on quarterbacks is critically important; he profiles as a strong finisher in the NFL.
As a run defender, Paye is a strong and physical presence who can bully his way through blocks to make a play on the ball. He’s a thumper on contact and is generally a reliable tackler. He struggles when diagnosing misdirection plays and read options and, as a result, can be out of position more than you’d like. But that isn’t a fatal flaw; he’ll get coached up in the league.
Paye’s physical and athletic traits didn’t show up in his box score. His lack of dominant production is a red flag and will cause teams to wonder if he’ll end up being more of a projection player than a productive one. That said, I always bet on players with Paye’s traits. They don’t come around all that often.
Overall, Paye has the kind of upside that should have teams excited about drafting him in the first round. His style of play reminds me of Khalil Mack, and while I hate making comparisons to players with Hall-of-Fame resumes, it’s hard not to get that vibe from Paye when watching his tape. He isn’t as rocked-up as Mack and he needs to become a more consistent playmaker, but his ability to win with power and quickness off the snap is very similar.
Paye won’t be as high of a first-round pick that Mack was, but he will be a highly sought-after guy. He might not factor in the starting lineup immediately as a rookie, but he’ll absolutely contribute on passing downs and, eventually, will become a cornerstone piece on whatever defense he becomes a part of.
GRADE: 8.2 (1st round)