Why drafting Kwity Paye was 'very easy,' Indianapolis Colts say

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Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
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Moments after Kwity Paye was selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts, he was asked on live television about how it would change his and his family members' lives.

With his arm draped around his mother, Agnes, Paye looked into the camera and said, "She's done working. She's retired."

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[ Kwity Paye drafted by Colts; ESPN analysts say Michigan star is project pick ]

That has always driven Paye: A desire to provide a more comfortable life for his mom, a war refugee from Liberia who immigrated to America and worked multiple jobs to provide for Paye and his siblings.

Now, the former star Michigan football pass rusher has achieved what he always dreamed of doing.

Paye's selection at No. 21 gives the Colts a player long considered one of the nation's most athletic rushers.

"Look, I’ve made some pretty easy picks, where you just knew, you pulled the card, and it was an easy pull," said Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Thursday night. "And pulling the card of Kwity Paye was very easy. Stands for everything we want to stand for.

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"We think he’s got really big upside, we think he’s going to continue to get better, and he’s going to add to our front. He’s got an unbelievable story. And just feel very fortunate tonight. Sometimes it goes your way, and tonight we feel like it went our way."

Michigan defensive lineman Kwity Paye sacks the Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley during the first half on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan defensive lineman Kwity Paye sacks the Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley during the first half on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Michigan Stadium.

According to Ballard, the Colts ranked Paye and "a couple other" edge rushers on the same level — but Paye was the player who "fit us the best."

Indianapolis also received offers to trade down, but, Ballard said, "we loved the player and the price of moving back we just didn’t think it was worth it."

"We think he’s got really high upside," Ballard said. "His tape is good. Kwity’s got really good tape. And he fits our scheme really well. The one thing with him that I think — the effort that our players defensively, it’s an adjustment for new players that come in the building. Whether they’re rookies or free agents. It won’t be an adjustment for him. He plays the way we want to play."

Paye said Thursday night that he was not surprised by the selection. He had met with the Colts at least three times during the pre-draft process — "real good meetings, long meetings," he described.

Paye was commonly projected as a first-rounder thanks to his athleticism: At Michigan's pro day, he ran a hand-timed 4.52-second 40-yard dash and also completed 36 reps on the bench press.

Yet there was some drama earlier this week after a pre-draft physical revealed unusually high troponin levels in Paye's blood, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

Michigan Wolverines' Carlo Kemp (2) and Kwity Paye (19) tackle Michigan State running back Elijah Collins during the second half Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
Michigan Wolverines' Carlo Kemp (2) and Kwity Paye (19) tackle Michigan State running back Elijah Collins during the second half Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Thursday night, Paye said that upon a subsequent test, the troponin levels "went all the way down." And in the end, Paye was cleared by NFL teams, according to Rapoport.

The Colts certainly were unafraid to invest in the former Wolverine.

Paye will likely play early and often for his new team. While Indianapolis had a sturdy pass rush from the interior of the line, thanks to DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart, things are more unsettled on the edge; Justin Houston, who led the team's edge rushers with eight sacks, is a free agent, while Denico Autry, who had 7.5 sacks, is now with the Tennessee Titans.

In the end, the Colts had what Ballard described multiple times as an "easy" decision.

"You always look for guys who pop," Ballard said. "Do they pop on tape when you’re watching all-22 of them? Kwity pops off the tape. One, with his athleticism and his speed, but also with his effort.

"I mean, this kid, he already plays the way we want to play. He’s going to fit in pretty quickly. I know our defensive players were pretty excited. I heard from a few of them."

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Kwity Paye went to Indianapolis Colts in NFL draft