Kwity Paye enters the 2021 NFL Draft as an intriguing target for teams looking to improve on the edge. The defensive end out of Michigan could have entered the draft last season, but elected to go back to Michigan.
While the Wolverines had a very underwhelming season, Paye continued to boost his stock. He’s regarded as a prospect that won’t last long in the first round, and very well won’t be there for any teams picking after No. 10.
Paye is listed at 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds with a freakish athletic ability and a high ceiling. His stats may not stand out as much, especially this past season where he only had 16 tackles and two sacks, but he was ranked by PFF as having the fourth-best pass-rush win rate out of any Power 5 defenders.
In his entire career in Ann Arbor, he racked up 100 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery in 28 games. The game film on him speaks volume to his ability to apply pressure off the edge even more than his numbers.
So with that in mind, here are four ideal landing spots for Kwity Paye in the 2021 NFL Draft.
New York Giants
One of the bigger priorities this offseason for GM Dave Gettleman and the Giants should be securing their defensive line, and most importantly, finding an edge rusher.
Leonard Williams had a breakout year, leading the team with 11.5 sacks. While he will be a UFA, it’s pretty reasonable to think that Williams will be back for the Big Blue next season. Williams can play both on the edge or on the inside, so it will be seen where the Giants want him lined up.
But outside of Williams, both edge rushers Kyler Fackrell and Jabaal Sheard will hit free agency, and so will interior lineman Dalvin Tomlinson.
It is looking like Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter will be the main pass rushing linebackers next season, but both spent extended time on the IR this season. While it would be nice for them both to come in and be dominant on the edge, the Giants still need a defensive end that can get after the quarterback and disrupt the run.
Paye’s sack total may not stand out, but the potential is certainly there. For a team competing in the same division with the defense of the Washington Football Team, adding a guy like Paye on the edge would put the Giants in the right direction to match the front of Washington.
A duo of Williams and Paye would be a handful for any offensive line.
The Falcons have been without a dominant edge rusher since Vic Beasley had his legendary season when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl. Beasley is now no longer on the team and has shown that year was the exception, not the rule, and the Falcons have been looking for that production ever since.
Dante Fowler Jr. was brought in to try and live up to his No. 3 overall selection hype, much like how he performed in Jacksonville and with the Rams, he’s carrying that bust status. The Falcons also tried with Steven Means and Charles Harris this season, but the trio of these defensive ends all ended up with just three sacks. Both Harris and Means will be free agents this offseason, making edge one of the many needs of the Falcons.
The Falcons have a budding star up the middle with Grady Jarrett and a solid edge linebacker in Deion Jones, who led the team with 4.5 sacks. Atlanta finished in the top 10 in QB hurries, knockdowns, and pressures, but managed to finish in the bottom 10 of sacks.
Kwity Paye could help with that finishing touch, putting him on the outside alongside Fowler Jr. The Falcons could still hope that Fowler Jr. figures it out, but you can’t go another season where the production just isn’t there on the end. They need to find someone to fulfill that position and Paye could be that guy in the NFL Draft.
Los Angeles Chargers
While the Los Angeles Chargers have one of the best defensive ends in the game in Joey Bosa, they will be in need of someone to replace the production that they will likely lose with Melvin Ingram set to hit free agency.
Ingram, who missed most of this season with a knee injury, will be 32 next season and is carrying a large salary cap hit with him. With the Chargers also needing to pay Hunter Henry, it seems Ingram will be out the door. So, a cheaper, younger option should be on the Chargers’ radar.
For a team with one of the better edge rushers in Bosa, the Chargers don’t have the other weapons to get after the quarterback. Part of it this season certainly had to do with the fact that Ingram was out, but the Chargers blitzed the least out of any team in the NFL at just 16.2% of snaps.
Having a younger guy like Kwity Paye to pair alongside Bosa would allow not only Paye to have less pressure to rack up sacks, but he won’t get most of the attention from an opposing offensive line. With Bosa receiving more of the attention and double teams, that would allow more one-on-one matchups for Paye to beat the tackle on the other side.
Now for the Lions, the decision to go after Kwity Paye in the first round of the NFL Draft will depend on how offseason discussions go with defensive end Romeo Okwara. Okwara led the team with 10.5 sacks and should be a prioirty for the Lions to bring back. However, with a new coach and GM, the Lions could be looking for an entire overhaul and not spend the money on Okwara.
The Lions also will have Everson Griffen as a free agent, who didn’t match his production in Minnesota with Detroit and will most likely be out the door, especially after missing half of the season. Trey Flowers remains on the roster next year, but also missed more than half of the season this year. There are a lot of question marks at the edge, especially if Okwara doesn’t return.
Detroit’s defense ranked in the bottom five in QB hurry percentage, knockdown percentage, and pressure percentage. They finished in the bottom 10 in sacks with 24. It was a front line that especially outside of Okwara, did nothing to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
If Okwara wants to cash in somewhere else, going after Paye makes even more sense for the Lions. There are a number of questions on the defensive side, but if you lose arguably your best defender from this past season, it’s a vacancy that needs to be filled, potentially in the NFL Draft.