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Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.
Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw | 20. RB Najee Harris | 19. LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | 18. EDGE Jaelan Phillips | 17. OT Teven Jenkins | 16. EDGE Kwity Paye | 15. CB Jaycee Horn | 14. OT-OG Rashawn Slater | 13. OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | 12. WR DeVonta Smith | 11. EDGE Azeez Ojulari | 10. CB Patrick Surtain II | 9. OT Penei Sewell | 8. QB Zach Wilson | 7. LB Micah Parsons | 6. QB Trey Lance | 5. WR Jaylen Waddle | 4. QB Justin Fields | 3. WR Ja'Marr Chase | 2. TE Kyle Pitts | 1. QB Trevor Lawrence
16. Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye
6-foot-3, 261 pounds
Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.10 — possible immediate starter
TL;DR scouting report: Twitchy edge rusher with a white-hot motor; a high-floor prospect but one in need of some pass-rush schooling
Games watched: Iowa (2020), Alabama (2019), Minnesota (2020), Indiana (2020), Penn State (2020)
The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit, Paye committed to the Wolverines and saw action in nine games as a true freshman, making five tackles (1.5 for losses) and one sack. In 2018, he made 29 tackles (5.5 for losses), two sacks, one pass breakup and one forced fumble in 13 games (four starts). Paye started 11 of 12 games in 2019, making 50 tackles (12 for losses), 6.5 sacks and one fumble recovery, earning second-team All-Big Ten. As a team captain in 2020, he started four games (missing two with injury) and made 16 tackles (four for losses) and two sacks as Michigan had three games canceled. Paye received an invitation to the 2021 Senior Bowl but declined it.
Upside: Tremendous athletic prowess. Explosive ability with a twitchy lower half. Displays some excellent quickness, agility and change-of-direction skills. Finishing speed and quickness evident. Great upper-body power. Thickly developed lower body. Big hands (10 inches).
Terrific pro day workout results — namely in the 40-yard dash (4.57 seconds), vertical jump (35 1/2 inches) and broad jump (118 inches). Also repped out an outstanding 36 bench-press reps — with 33-inch arms. Former prep track star who was a state champ in the 4x100 relay (he ran anchor) and long jump, as well as a standout in the shotput and 100 meters.
Wasn’t even able to display near-legendary 3-cone drill skills — he opted out of that and the short shuttle because of a quadriceps injury — after previously recording a stunning 6.37-second time. (For reference, no edge rusher has ever bettered a 6.75 at the NFL scouting combine.)
Gives max effort every snap, it seems. High-motor player who seldom gives up on plays. Possess great late-rush potential — doesn’t stall when initial move is stymied. Racks up backside pursuit plays. Wears down opposing tackles with his drive and energy. Forces opponents to bring their best.
Strong run defender. Maintains good pad level — low-cut and doesn’t make himself easy to block. Sets a good, hard edge despite lacking ideal length. Uses strong hands well to gain early advantages. Plays with good leverage vs. the run. Works laterally well to string plays outside and make tackles from the backside. Played on the boundary often for his athletic traits. Can beat up tight ends all day.
Pass-rush potential to be unlocked. Explosiveness off the snap gives him a natural edge to make strides. Speed-to-power rushes could be his calling card. Goes right after the tackle’s outside shoulder and can exploit oversetters. Had some exciting flashes in 2019 tape. Effective on loops and stunts vs. slower interior blockers.
High-floor prospect. Hard worker with determination to better his craft. Accountable and reliable — effort doesn’t waver when times get tough. Versatile enough — lined up at both edge spots (two- and three-point stances) and inside (even as a nose tackle) and occasionally dropped in short zones.
Downside: Better tester than player right now — film still shows some rawness and undeveloped traits. Turned in a better season in 2019 than in 2020 (because of injuries and canceled games). So-so career production — 11.5 sacks, one forced fumble in 38 games. Lacks ideal experience — 19 career starts and just over 1,300 defensive snaps.
Still developing his instincts — more of a read-and-react player. Can look out of sorts vs. misdirection and option looks. Tries to win more with natural athleticism than technique. Good for about one missed tackle per game.
Pass-rush skills remain a bit crude. Doesn’t set up blockers well enough. Lacks counters and creativity in his rush plan. Won’t get away with the straight bull rushes in the NFL that he defaulted to so often in college. Not quite as loose-hipped as you’d imagine for his athletic traits — has trouble carving the edge. Was often left single-blocked outside.
Lack of ideal length for the position. Arms are on the shorter side at 33 inches and doesn’t do much to disrupt passing windows. Could take a better upfield rush approach to negate lack of length.
Projection prospect with work to be done. Requires more coaching and seasoning to coax out his max potential. Battled nagging injuries throughout his career despite only missing a handful of games. Limited special-teams experience or obvious value.
Best-suited destination: Paye’s athletic traits make him a scheme-versatile player who could be tried in a stand-up rush role or allowed to attack on either side. His role in Year 1 might be relegated to rotational rusher, but Paye has starter potential in time and should profile as no worse than a solid starter with his raw traits and exciting athleticism.
Did you know: There have been 39 players born in Rhode Island in NFL history, per Pro Football Reference, including a few fairly well-known ones of yore such as former Houston Oilers kicker Al Del Greco.
The last Rhode Island-born player in the league was former cornerback and returner Will Blackmon, who saw time in 15 games for Washington in 2016. Paye and Blackmon actually attended the same high school, Bishop Hendricken Catholic, too.
However, Paye was actually born in a refugee camp in the West African republic of Guinea after his mother, Agnes, fled her home state of Liberia, which was in the midst of civil war at the time. Paye actually never has met his father, Leroy George, who remains in Liberia to this day.
Paye was brought to the United States before his first birthday, as the family settled in Rhode Island back in 1999.
Player comp: Brian Orakpo
Expected draft range: First-round pick
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