The Michigan Wolverines have been a team that has faltered from expectations in recent years. This season, they are off to a dismal 1-3 start yet again. Even with that disappointment, they have not failed to produce NFL talent. Their strengths lie fruitful at the edge rusher position. They have recently produced players such as Josh Uche, Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, and Frank Clark. So, it is no surprise to see another Michigan edge rusher in potential first-round conversations. That top NFL Draft prospect is Kwity Paye, who has tools for days but is looking to catapult his stock in his senior season.
Paye is looking to be the guy that rises to the top of an edge rusher class that still has a lot of uncertainty to it. Gregory Rousseau is cemented among the top prospects, but there is nothing close to set in stone outside of that. Paye finds himself with more responsibility than ever before and primed with an opportunity to shoot his stock to the moon.
Kwity Paye NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 272 pounds
The road to Ann Arbor was never easy for Paye. His mother fled her native country of Liberia to South Providence, Rhode Island, which was torn with violence. His mother made sure to keep him and his brother in community activities, including sports. She even hounded their groups to make sure positive people surrounded them despite their tough financial situation. That focus on sports would lead Paye to football.
Playing for Bishop Hendrickson in Warwick, Rhode Island, Paye found himself as the star of his high school team. Bursting onto the scene as a sophomore in 2014, Paye amassed four sacks and ten tackles for loss in his first year as a starter. It was a mark of early production that would become the gold standard for Paye’s exceptional high school career at Bishop Hendrickson, one of Rhode Island’s most prolific programs. Kwity Paye’s long journey to the NFL Draft would start here.
It was Paye’s junior season that put his name on the national map. Despite a dip in production to only 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, Paye’s natural tools caught the eye of schools. After going to camps and clocking an insane 4.5 40-yard dash, Paye became the top-ranked player in Rhode Island for the 2017 recruiting class. A high 3-star recruit, Paye was a First-Team All-State pick. Even still, his most impressive accomplishment may have been off the gridiron and on the track. Paye won the Rhode Island State Championship in Long Jump with an excellent mark of 21 feet and 5 inches. That caught the attention of national recruiters all over the country.
Prior to his senior season, Paye was getting offers from several Power 5 teams. Northeastern ACC schools like Syracuse and Boston College called Paye in the spring after his sophomore season. In fact, in December of 2015, Paye committed to Boston College after a visit. However, bigger programs came calling. Stanford called before his junior season. That was nothing compared to when Michigan called and offered Paye before his senior season. In the middle of his senior campaign, Paye visited Ann Arbor and committed shortly after. The natural tools and athleticism made Michigan jump at the opportunity to try and mold Paye into a star.
In his senior season, Paye only had 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss, as some teams were triple-teaming him. Even still, Paye won the Rhode Island Lineman of the Year Award and was the 2016 Rhode Island Defensive Player of the Year. Meanwhile, he also was a standout running back. He amassed over 600 rushing yards on the season on the way to leading Bishop Hendrickson to the state championship game. After the season, Paye was selected to the Under Armour All-American game. The success on the track never stopped, either. Paye was a member of the state championship 4×100 team that year.
Related | Rashod Bateman NFL Draft Player Profile
Arriving at the Big House for his freshman season, Paye would arrive raw and all athletic potential. Even as unrefined as he was, Paye got onto the field as a special teamer and in limited snaps as a defensive end. His first career sack was against Penn State with a great chop-rip move. His sophomore year was where things came more into view as Paye started in four games and played in all 13 games. He got two sacks and was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. Kwity Paye proved his NFL Draft hype is legitimate and that he was no longer just an athlete but growing into a serious all-around player.
Paye’s junior season saw him see far more significant snaps than ever before in his college career. Paye started 11 of 12 games and amassed 6.5 sacks on the season. Paye’s 2.5 sack game against Iowa displayed everything about his game. One of his sacks was a pure effort sack as he chased Nate Stanley outside of the pocket to finally bring him down. It was all about his hot motor. Two other sacks were against future NFL tackle Alaric Jackson. Paye’s explosiveness, club-rip, and chop-rip moves were too much for Jackson to handle. He flashed his underrated flexibility for someone who is built so densely as well. All in all, Paye’s junior season was a massive success to showcase.
Kwity Paye returns and has stronger day than stats indicate
After missing the last two games with a lower-body injury, Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye returned for the Wolverines’ matchup against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Facing another NFL prospect in Penn State offensive tackle Rasheed Walker, this was a chance to compete for Paye.
How’d he look returning from injury?
In his first game back from injury, Paye looked like he was still dealing with an ailment. It seems like Paye has yet to fully recover and lacked some of the juice and explosiveness off the line that makes him unique. As such, Paye did not register any sacks or even a tackle for loss on the day. He did, however, beat Walker and other linemen in front of him multiple times.
Lacking some of his natural athleticism, Paye’s crafty hands took the spotlight instead. By using a double rip-dip move, Paye consistently generated pressure as he tried to win around the edge. On the interior, it was the chop-rip combination that Paye used to find some paydirt.
While he had no sacks, make no mistake, Paye made his presence felt. Registering a substantial five pressures on the day, including three on Walker from my charting, Paye collapsed the pocket even though he did not get to the promised land. This was still a strong day for Paye as a pass rusher, even if it was quiet on the box score.
Paye polishing his skills defending the run
Additionally, Paye’s strengths as a run defender came out on Saturday. While the skills that make Paye a high-level pass rusher are highly touted, he may be even more impressive as a run defender. Paye is a better run defender than pass rusher as it currently stands. That is the trait that got him on the field, aside from his freaky athletic upside and versatility.
While Paye does not have great length, he is thick and hard to drive off the edge. He often stacks tackles with his crafty hands and naturally good pad level and then sheds them, working against the run’s flow to make the tackle. He did this a few times on Saturday to stack and shed blockers to make a play on the run. That compact frame of his makes it easy to be sturdy and stand firm on those outside zone runs as well, which is a growing trend in the NFL.
Even more critical to Paye’s versatility is how well he took on double teams on the interior. Thanks to that build and Paye’s pure strength, he can withstand the double teams and sometimes even split them to plug the middle of the run. Rarely do you see Paye get washed out of his gap on double teams.
As a college football lover, it was nice to have Paye back against the Nittany Lions on Saturday, even if Michigan sustained yet another loss in a nightmare season for the Wolverines. Still, for Kwity Paye, this has been a solid season, and he continued that last weekend.
Paye misses second straight game with a lower-body injury
After missing the game against Wisconsin, Kwity Paye has missed yet another game after sitting out against Rutgers. Now, there is no official word on what the specific injury was other than the lower-body designation, but it was clear that Paye was favoring either his hip or groin against Indiana late in the game.
This is something to watch, as Paye’s stock has soared. If this is a soft tissue injury, it is best served that Paye rests up until he is fully recovered. The hope is that this is far from severe and just something that will dissipate over time. Paye needs a full draft process, including a strong combine, to truly solidify his stock as perhaps the top edge rusher in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Paye’s excellent news is that he has a relatively clean bill of health, though he has gotten dinged up at times. Aside from an injury where he hit his “funny bone,” Paye has missed minimal time with the Wolverines and in high school. That is an excellent sign for Paye as it pertains to his draft stock — the medicals will not be a discussion point for Paye, despite this recent injury.
With a strong start to the season and freakish athleticism headlining Paye’s game, he should continue to climb boards well into the first round. This injury is only costing him opportunities to solidify that status. Hopefully, he can get back onto the field to show what he’s got. Looking ahead, Paye still has a big matchup against Thayer Munford when the Wolverines suit up against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Should he play against Penn State, tackle Rasheed Walker is another NFL prospect receiving buzz. Paye still has excellent opportunities left to raise his stock against NFL talent.
Paye’s stock soars after impressive first three games
With the Big Ten’s return to play, Paye made it known he was not messing around early and often. Against Minnesota, Paye earned Defensive Lineman of the Week honors after registering three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Working up and down the defensive line, Paye showcased his fantastic burst as a weapon.
As a stand-up outside linebacker, Paye’s impressive first step softened angles, and he was able to bend around the edge. On the interior, his explosiveness was turned into power with strong hands to stun the interior lineman. Paye even illustrated a newfound bull rush by converting his speed to power. Paye’s chop-rip and club-rip moves came in handy as he beat NFL prospect Daniel Faalele around the edge a few times.
Over the first three games of the season, Paye racked up 25 pressures. It was easy to see why that was the case against Michigan State. Paye has an innate ability to use his ankle flexibility to bend around the edge and combine that with his explosiveness. If offensive tackles can not get depth and get to their spot, Paye will run that tight arc and beat them with ease. Paye had three quarterback hits against the Spartans. What was really impressive about Paye’s performance here, though, was his run defense. Paye’s dense build allows him to work inside and beat double teams and combo blocks. His sturdy frame and strong hands make him an incredible edge setter and run defender. Kwity Paye’s versatile set of skills have given way to increasing NFL Draft stock.
Even against Indiana, the traits kept showing up again and again. It is undeniable that Paye has now blended his athletic traits with a fantastic array of moves and technical ability. That versatility to move up and down the line allows Michigan to play multiple fronts and is a valuable game planning tool. The Wolverines love the ability to use Paye however they please since he is so explosive and flexible. That makes his NFL prospects much better since he is so scheme-versatile. Paye is moldable to almost any scheme because of his rare build and athleticism combination.
He did miss the next game against Wisconsin due to injury, so this injury is something to monitor going forward.
Kwity Paye’s best NFL Draft fits
Paye came into the season as a fringe first-round prospect but is now clearly entrenched in the middle of the first round, if not higher. It would not be a surprise to see him blow the doors off of Indianapolis at the Combine and ride the wave of hype into a top-ten draft selection. That being said, there are so many doors where Paye can walk through and succeed.
The Los Angeles Chargers are a fascinating landing spot for Paye. They love to run multiple fronts and use their guys up and down the line. Paye can fill a need there. While working as a defensive end on the interior, Paye has the right amount of sand in his pants to hold his weight and go at it with the biggest of linemen. His explosiveness on the interior is inherently disruptive as well. Still, Paye can stand up and work at outside linebacker, too. The Chargers like to do that at times, so Paye is a nice plug and play here for the Chargers.
The Atlanta Falcons make a lot of sense too. Even if he would be playing mostly as an outside linebacker in their scheme, Paye has the movement skills to work in space if needed. As I mentioned before, he played on special teams, so Paye has the fluidity to drop back in coverage if asked. He can win outside with his burst and flexibility to soften those harsh pass rush angles. Paye can dip his shoulder and really reduce the surface area when tightening that arc. The Falcons are desperate for pass-rushing help.
The last fit that I personally love is the Las Vegas Raiders because they play a multiple-front defense that asks their guys to move up and down the line. They thought they were getting that in Clelin Ferrell, but he has not lived up to his draft slot. Paye, on the other hand, has that ability and far more juice than Ferrell does. Kwity Paye is a perfect upgrade for the Raiders to target in the NFL Draft.