Throughout the process leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, a debate has raged as to which pass rusher is the top EDGE in the draft class.
It seems as though just about every draft analyst has a different opinion (and justification) for which of the top EDGE defenders is the top EDGE. But in just about every list, Michigan’s Kwity Paye has been among the most consistently highly rated.
Paye is widely considered to be the safest EDGE prospect in the draft, with few warts on his game and no glaring red flags. He has the size the NFL has typically liked at the position, as well as plenty of athleticism — he topped Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks” list.
But while Paye might be the safest pick among the top EDGE prospects, does that mean he’s the best?
Prospect: Kwity Paye
Games Watched: vs. Iowa (2019), vs. Indiana (2020), vs. Michigan State (2020), vs. Penn State (2020)
Games Played: 28
Tackles For a loss: 23.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Games Played: 4
Tackles For a loss: 4.0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Best: Linear explosiveness, hand usage, competitive toughness
Worst: Agility, lower body fluidity
Projection: A starting defensive end in a 4-3 front.
Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye has a good blend of size, length, and strength for the defensive end position at the NFL level. Paye lines up on both sides of the Michigan defensive line, playing both left and right defensive end spots. Paye is also capable of playing out of two and three-point stances, and has adequate size, thickness, and strength to move inside in certain packages at the next level as well.
Paye plays out of a low stance, with good leverage to start the play. He is an explosive linear athlete with a good initial quickness and the ability to be explosive off the ball. Paye shows polished hand usage for a college prospect, consistently winning hand battles with offensive linemen and preventing them from locking in their blocks. He tends to target blockers hands early in the play, using swipe and long-arm moves to neutralize blockers’ hands before slipping past with a club move. Paye consistently fights for, and wins, inside leverage on offensive tackles, then extending his arms and creating room with which to work. He has enough lateral agility and explosive in his lower body to present a threat with inside moves, as well as making him an effective looper on stunts and twists along the line of scrimmage.
Paye is a disciplined run defender who shows generally good mental processing in diagnosing running plays. He is also consistently faithful to his assignment and practices good gap integrity. Paye shows good competitive toughness in his play, hustling in pursuit and fighting through blocks to disrupt late in the play.
Paye shows stiffness in his lower body, particularly in his ankles and hips. That stiffness limits his ability to bend and carry speed around the edge as a pass rusher. It also limits his lateral agility to quickly disengage from blockers and make tackles on athletic players in close spaces.
Paye’s first step off the line of scrimmage is compromised by inconsistent snap timing, to the point where he can be the last player moving at the snap of the ball. He can also show some hesitation when faced with misdirection, at times having to pause completely to diagnose read-option plays. And while he consistently begins plays with good leverage, he has a tendency to lose that leverage if his initial pass rush move fails. Paye can find himself hung up on blockers if his initial move fails and they are able to establish their blocks.
Overall Grade: 8.3 - This prospect has the potential to start in the NFL and be a contributor early in his career, though he could have some schematic limitations.
Michigan’s Kwity Paye projects best as a reliable starting defensive end in a 4-3 front. Defensive coordinators will appreciate Paye’s competitive toughness and discipline, as well as his ability to be a reliable player on all downs. However, he is somewhat scheme limited and is an awkward fit in most modern 3-4 defenses (or hybrid defenses based in one-gap 34 principles). Paye lacks the elite athleticism necessary to be a consistent star pass rusher, and will struggle to bend the edge or beat NFL caliber offensive tackles with speed. For instance, he was consistently frustrated when rushing from the defensive left against Tristan Wirfs in 2019.
Paye is an explosive linear athlete, and his 4.52 second 40-yard dash is impressive for his 261 pound frame. However, he isn’t a particularly “bendy” edge rusher and will likely need some help from the defensive scheme on passing downs. He could often find himself moved to wider alignments, looping inside, or moved to a defensive tackle position when running plays are unlikely.
Instead of being a speed rusher, Paye will win with toughness, strength, and technique, though coaches will want to work on improving his snap anticipation. Rather than the next Von Miller or Myles Garrett, Paye looks to be a player in the mold of Adrian Clayborn, Olivier Vernon, or Trey Flowers. A good, reliable defensive end who will be a consistent presence, but not a player to take over games.