Kwity Paye admits there were some moments of hesitation in his first NFL practice.
As the Indianapolis Colts roll through a three-day rookie mini-camp this weekend at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the first-round pick is adjusting to a new set of expectations. At Michigan, Paye was asked to read and react to opposing offenses. As a pro, he’s being given the freedom to throw the first punch.
“The first day of practice (Friday), kind of just coming off, I was kind of hesitant,” Paye told reporters during a video conference call Saturday. “But then I was just like, ‘No, I can’t sit there and read or whatever.’ I just have to go and attack, and then from there just change it up and whatnot.”
The alterations to Paye’s routine don’t end there.
At Michigan, he was used up and down the defensive line. Paye played both the left and right sides at end and often reduced inside on passing downs. It’s a common tactic designed in part to keep offenses guessing where a talented defender will line up from snap to snap.
But it also can slow a pass rusher down. There are different responsibilities and angles to consider at each position, and any momentary pause can be the difference between a sack and a pass completion. Early on at least, the Colts plan to play Paye exclusively at right end.
It’s all part of a less-is-more approach the team hopes will help unlock the 22-year-old’s full potential.
Paye’s athletic measurables are elite. During the Wolverines’ pro day this spring, he posted 36 reps on the bench press, exploded for a 35.5-inch vertical leap and sprinted to a 4.57-second 40-yard dash.
The most incredible number was actually accomplished outside of that event. Though it’s considered an unofficial time, there is video of Paye running a 6.37-second three-cone drill in 2020. That would have been the fastest time ever recorded by a defensive lineman at the NFL Scouting Combine.
So it’s small wonder Paye topped sportswriter Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List heading into last year’s college football season.
The only problem is those athletic traits have yet to translate into freakish on-field production. Paye has just 11.5 sacks during his Michigan career.
“I haven’t scouted a lot of defensive linemen coming out of Michigan that put up gaudy numbers,” said Colts area scout Chad Henry, who has had the school as part of his responsibilities since 2016. “Really, probably the most productive guy over that timeframe was Chase Winovich, and that was just because he was a complete psycho – like chased the ball halfway down the street to get the play. I mean, Kwity does that, too. I think that’s another reason that we got excited about seeing him in our scheme because he is going to be able to utilize that speed and attack upfield a lot more than he was able to do there.
“Sack production is good, but it can be a little bit deceptive sometimes, too. I think when you put his traits together, and the way that he plays — and I think that he even has an opportunity to get better as a pass rusher in our scheme and the way that he’s gonna be taught here.”
Paye needs to diversify his pass rush moves. He too often relies on pure power rather than tying together some of his other skills and setting offensive linemen up throughout a game. But that’s an area Indianapolis defensive line coach Brian Baker will soon attack.
Paye was the Colts’ No. 1-rated edge rusher in this class, and the team was ecstatic when his name remained on the draft board at No. 21. General manager Chris Ballard often preaches patience with young edge rushers, noting there’s a big adjustment from the college game.
But nobody’s trying to slow the hype train down for Paye.
Least of all the player himself.
“I feel like I’ve put enough pressure on myself, so I feel like I’m never satisfied with a practice or with a game,” Paye said. “I’m always looking to improve and always looking to be my best self. I just take it on.”
THE REICH STUFF
As evidenced by the season finale of the Colts’ “With the Next Pick” web series, head coach Frank Reich was overjoyed with the fourth-round selection of SMU tight end Kylen Granson. For a number of reasons, including high intelligence and athletic traits, Indianapolis believes the former wide receiver is an outstanding fit for its offense.
“He’s more of an ‘F’ tight end, so his trait is obviously his speed and ability to get down the field,” assistant director of college scouting Matt Terpening said. “But, like, his athleticism – he can beat man coverage versus linebackers. That’s imperative out of the ‘F’ tight end position. We may flex that guy out to play in the slot, and he may be against a more athletic safety. He’s gotta be able to win on third down and get open and catch the ball, and he can definitely do that.”
Granson hasn’t had a one-on-one talk about his role with the head coach, yet. But he’s fully aware he’ll be expected to quickly contribute in a number of ways.
“I’m definitely going to be a (special) teams guy for sure,” Granson said. “I mean, teams are a big deal here. Also, just high expectations for me all around, just in every meeting we do. I think that is just the standard here at Indianapolis.”