#2 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Kwity Paye (Michigan)
6’ 4”, 275 pounds; SR
Born to a Liberian mother in a refugee camp in Guinea, Kwity Paye and his family came to the USA when he was only six months old.
In high school, he won the state title in the long jump and was part of the championship 4×100 meter relay team in Rhode Island. After playing running back in high school, he reported to Ann Arbor at 228 pounds as a barely top-500 overall recruit.
Paye saw action as a true freshman, but it really wasn’t until his junior season that he established himself as a key player for the Wolverine defense. He registered 12.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks in 2019 and then four TFLs and two sacks in four games last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten accolades in both years.
Paye was the number one guy on Bruce Feldman’s 2020 freak list considering the athletic phenom he is. The one number that really stood out was his three-cone drill, where he put up the second-fastest number of any Wolverine player in his junior season, despite the rest of the guys in that range weighing around 200 pounds.
Kwity Paye took on a more prominent role in his junior season. While the sample size is rather limited, he took another major step forward in 2020. That was evident right away in the season-opener against Minnesota, where he recorded three TFLs and was in Tanner Morgan’s grill all game long. He registered back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter after he didn’t officially log any on his many attempts before that.
Paye comes out of his stance with some wiggle as a pass-rusher. and he has some twitchiness about him to get around blockers. His best move in that regard is the push-pull because he has plenty of force in his hands and the feel for when to jerk linemen down when they try to lean into him. He also gets a lot of late wins by pulling big guys off himself.
However, he wins around the edge on plenty of occasions as well. Paye may hesitate or stab to the inside and then hit the blocker with a sudden burst. He also has the long arms to run the loop with the tackle on his hip and is also able to tomahawk at the quarterback’s arm to get the ball out.
He shows a very effective up-and-under maneuver, with a strong rip to clear the hands of the tackle, and he flashes a good-looking cross-chop too. Paye lined up a three-technique on a lot of the Wolverines’ passing downs, where his quickness created mismatches. Thanks to his closing speed, he is a very dangerous looper in different games up front, and he can create vertical push when banging into guards on inside slants.
Paye is dominant at the point of attack in the run game. When his first punch hits, the blockers’ heads jerk back, and their pads rise up. He has a lot of shock in his hands and can yank the blocker to the side to get involved in the tackle. He is almost robotic in setting the edge, with the way he steps in, locks out and shifts his weight accordingly.
When Paye is left unblocked on the backside momentarily, he attaches to the hip of the end-man, and his eyes go from kick-out pull to quarterback (keep). On zone runs away from him; he flattens down the lane and has the speed to chase running backs down from behind. Overall, he pursues the ball with great effort.
But what is crazy about Paye is his ridiculous ability to change directions, which directly translates from athletic testing to the way he steps inside on a run-fake and still chases down jet-sweeps when the ball carrier tries to cut upfield. He can shut down B-gap runs at the line of scrimmage.
Every once in a while, Paye can lose sight of the ball carrier because he is focused on dealing with the blocker and misses out on opportunities, or he is just late getting into pursuit mode. As a pass-rusher, he has to do a better job of threatening the edges of the blocker, so he isn't yet a top-tier speed or power rusher.
At times, he gets too hung up with the hands of the blocker instead of focusing on his approach. Overall, his rush capability is slightly limited due to his sub-optimal length and bend.
One tackle is all he could add to the stat sheet in the 2020 Citrus Bowl against Alabama, as two offensive tackles completely negated him and his teammate Aidan Hutchinson. While he did show improvement throughout his junior season, it took him about three-and-half years to become a dominant college player, despite his athleticism.
While one may look at Paye’s two sacks last season as a turn-off for potentially the first edge rusher off the board, he did add 20 more pressures to add to that statistical output. He is not yet a top-tier speed or power rusher, but his quickness and force in his hands give him a chance of being much more productive in that area as a pro, while his run defense is already pretty close to elite.
Paye is primarily a 4-3 defensive end who can rush over guards and whose superb change of direction can be unleashed on creative D-line games. He could go anywhere between seven and 17 in the 2021 NFL Draft.