Though overshadowed by Ohio State and Penn State in the perpetual battle for Big Ten supremacy, the Michigan Wolverines have a reason for optimism in 2020. Sure, the quarterback position remains unsettled, and the competition figures to extend into the latter stages of fall camp. However, the retooled defense suggests that Don Brown’s stingy 11th-ranked unit from a season ago won’t miss a beat. While most of the intrigue centers around what many anticipate to be a stellar secondary, I’d argue that the Michigan defensive line offers just as much upside — particularly EDGE Kwity Paye.
Kwity Paye’s first season in Ann Arbor
Traveling nearly 750 miles from his hometown of Providence to Ann Arbor, Michigan, Paye managed to elude the increasingly-inevitable redshirt tag to make an immediate impact on the gridiron for the Wolverines.
Appearing in nine games as a reserve edge rusher and special teams contributor, Paye broke into a formidable defensive front that included Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, and Maurice Hurst. He closed out his first season with five tackles (1.5 for loss) and 1.0 sack.
Earning his first varsity letter for his contributions, the 6-foot-4, 277-pound defensive lineman showcased enough in his limited sample size to entrench himself as a prominent defensive piece the following season.
Even with most of the star-studded Wolverines’ defense returning in 2018, the upside-laden Paye shouldered an integral role for defensive coordinator Don Brown.
Playing in 13 games (four starts), Paye compiled 29 tackles (5.5 for loss) and two sacks. The lengthy defender was named Defensive Lineman of the Week three times following standout performances against Northwestern, Maryland, and Indiana, and earned a collective share of Defensive Player of the Week honors for the defense’s mighty performance in the Wolverines’ double-digit triumph over Michigan State.
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Though he saw the field in a limited capacity, Paye was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by the media.
With Gary and Winovich leaving Ann Arbor for the NFL in the spring, a welcomed burden was placed on Paye. Along with Josh Uche, Khaleke Hudson, Jordan Glasgow, Josh Metellus, and Lavert Hill, Paye needed to elevate his play to carry the torch.
Appearing in 12 games in 2019 (11 starts), Paye recorded 50 tackles (12.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks, and one fumble recovery. His signature performance came in a career day against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. He accumulated six tackles (3.5 for loss), and 1.5 sacks, earning him the distinction of Defensive Player of the Week. Like the year before, Paye also shared Defensive Player of the Week honors with his teammates for their outing against Iowa. In the defensive slugfest with the Hawkeyes, Paye registered four tackles and 2.5 sacks.
In addition to earning his third letter in as many seasons, Paye’s breakout performance yielded second-team All-Big Ten honors, and he also earned Academic All-Big Ten recognition for the second consecutive season.
Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye’s 2020 prospects
With many of his longtime defensive cohorts graduating to the professional level, Paye finds himself squarely in the spotlight entering the 2020 season.
Sporting a lengthy wingspan and chiseled frame, Paye shows an explosive burst off the ball and the quickness and technique to regularly shoot past gaps in pursuit of the football. As evidenced by his 12.5 tackles for loss in 2019, the Rhode Island native has developed a penchant for being disruptive and making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Paye also has some versatility to his game, offering the ability to kick inside and push the pocket. Due to his explosive traits and understanding of leverage, it’s feasible to think Paye could earn a permanent role along the interior on third-and-long situations.
As intriguing as the Paye’s intangibles are, however, he sometimes struggles to disengage. He will need to continue to add the requisite strength to power past offensive linemen and set the edge in the running game.
If Paye can take the final step in his collegiate career by becoming a double-digit sack artist, the new-look Wolverines’ defensive line could be the X-factor in some expectedly close games.