Kwity Paye’s production in his rookie season was hardly eye-catching and, as the Indianapolis Colts switch to a new defensive scheme in 2022, there will be an onus on last year’s first-round pick to make that transition easier with a breakout year. Encouragingly for the Colts, Paye – despite ending his maiden campaign with just four sacks – delivered performances as a rookie to suggest such a season is within his grasp.
The Colts bet on Paye’s athletic ability and intriguing blend of pass-rush tools by selecting him with the 21st overall pick in 2021. While the sack numbers may on the surface not be satisfactory for a player taken with such a premium pick, Paye did succeed in regularly generating pressure.
Indeed, according to Pro Football Focus, Paye’s pass-rush win rate of 15.1 percent in 2021 was the third-highest among all rookies. He trailed only Micah Parsons (26.3%) and Christian Barmore (17.2%).
With the Colts replacing departed defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus with Gus Bradley, it is critical Paye builds on the flashes he displayed as a rookie. Bradley is one of the most stubborn defensive play-callers in the NFL, relying heavily on Cover 3 zone coverages while rarely sending more than four pass rushers. His Las Vegas Raiders defense had the lowest blitz rate in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Reference.
The Colts will likely, therefore, have to consistently win with four pass rushers to succeed in disrupting opposition quarterbacks. Between DeForest Buckner and newly acquired edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, the Colts have the veteran talent to help them achieve that aim, but it is Paye and his dynamic skill set that could be the X-factor in making the change to Bradley a success.
Scouting Kwity Paye’s strengths
“Extremely sudden player with excellent change of direction,” Penn said of Paye. “Fast hands, [has] the quickness to get skinny through gaps, and very good closing speed.”
Flaherty added: “Good get-off, his hand usage, good edge speed and very good quickness. Show him the hands and you extend too soon he’s going to swipe them. He’s a player that has tools in his toolbox to rush the passer.”
That suddenness and impressive hand usage were on show throughout his rookie season.
Foot and hand speed
His speed off the snap was critical to Paye’s success in arguably his best performance of 2021 against the New York Jets in Week 9.
The threat of Paye using his speed to get around the edge allowed him to beat Morgan Moses to the inside. Moses took a large step to his right to protect against the outside rush, enabling Paye to use his quickness to beat him through the B gap and hit Mike White as he released the ball.
Paye transformed that speed to power and combined it with leverage, hand usage and impressive awareness on a sack-fumble of Josh Allen in the Colts’ blowout win over the Bills in Week 11.
He gained significant ground with his second step before getting low to allow him to explode upwards into contact with Daryl Williams with an effective rip move. Instead of going for the big hit, Paye then demonstrated the awareness to focus on stripping the football, nearly forcing a turnover.
As Flaherty predicted, Paye punished tackles who made the error of extending their arms at the wrong time with the use of his two-hand swipe move, with another pass-rush win against Moses coming in that manner.
Paye paired the swipe move with his footwork in a rush against D.J. Humphries during the Colts’ Week 16 victory over the Cardinals in Arizona. Here Paye, having tried to sell the bull rush by keeping his shoulders square to Humphries and taking a sharp step to the inside with his left foot, used his fast hands to beat the veteran to the punch with the swipe. He then flattened his rush and closed to force Kyler Murray from the pocket.
That ability to redirect and change the pursuit angle of his rush was a critical aspect of some of Paye’s best rushes from his rookie year.
Paye’s redirection prowess
Paye showcased his aptitude for redirecting as he emphatically beat Jets right tackle George Fant in the comfortable win over New York. Again Paye was first to the punch, with his power denying Fant any opportunity to drop his anchor, swiping away the left tackle’s hands before changing direction at the top of his rush with the help of a swim move to pressure Mike White.
The highlight sack of Paye’s embryonic career came in much similar fashion during the Colts’ Week 12 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Going up against Donovan Smith, Paye used the long arm to great effect to disengage from the block. He then redirected to close quickly and bring down Tom Brady.
From Moses to Williams, Humphries, Fant, and Smith, Paye made several of his standout plays from his rookie year against veteran tackles whose experience should have given them the edge against him. Paye flipped the script not just through the use of his athleticism, but also through intelligent and varied hand usage married with similarly refined footwork and the ease with which he can change direction.
Those are traits that lend themselves to long-term success rushing the passer and, with Buckner and Ngakoue likely to draw attention that means Kwity Paye should see plenty of one-on-one matchups, he is in an excellent position to take the next step in year two and threaten a double-digit sack season regardless of any doubts about Bradley’s defensive system.