Colts: Projecting a realistic rookie season for Kwity Paye

May 27, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Kwity Paye (51) Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
May 27, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Kwity Paye (51) Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indianapolis Colts’ draft room was delighted when they found out Kwity Paye would be available to them at No. 21 overall, and understandably so considering how many mock drafts projected the young edge rusher as a potential top-10 pick.

This selection could pay immediate dividends for the Colts, as they lost both of their starting defensive ends from last season, Justin Houston and Denico Autry, to free agency.

The thought of Paye logging significant snaps as a rookie might scare fans, but 2020 third-rounder Julian Blackmon did the same thing last season and exceeded expectations despite coming off a torn ACL he suffered in his final game at Utah.

On top of that, Jonathan Taylor, who Indy took with their second pick (No. 41 overall) last year, finished third in the NFL with 1,169 rushing yards and 69 first downs. He also ranked fourth in rushing touchdowns (11) and averaged a solid 5.0 yards per carry.

Taking those numbers into account, Colts fans would be justified placing lofty expectations on Paye’s shoulders. However, given that pass rushers don’t always hit the ground running as rookies, what would a realistic first year look like for the former Michigan star?

Projecting a realistic rookie year for Colts DE Kwity Paye.

Speaking to the media this week, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard likened Paye’s motor and toughness to that of DeForest Buckner. Leonard acknowledged that Paye, like Buckner, is a reserved character off the field, but manages to flip a switch on the gridiron.

That quote should have fans in Indianapolis picturing Paye tormenting opposing quarterbacks, because Buckner did just that in his first season with the Colts. However, Buckner is an established pro who’s entering his sixth NFL season.

Paye, meanwhile is a rookie who didn’t became a household name at the college until his junior season, when he compiled 50 tackles (12.5 for loss) and 6.5 sacks in 12 games. The former Wolverine has all the necessary physical tools to become a star in the NFL, but let’s keep in mind he needs to refine his pass-rushing technique and develop more moves.

With all this in mind, what kind of numbers could Paye post in Year 1? Well, assuming he carves out a prominent role in the defensive end rotation, the 22-year-old should be a legitimate  contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. That means we’re probably looking at 44 tackles, at least seven tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 16 QB hits.

When all is said and done, Paye might not end up posting those numbers, as the Colts emphasize rotating guys along their defensive front. Paye will have to compete with the likes of Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad and potentially Ben Banogu for snaps.

However, there’s no denying Paye has the proper infrastructure around him to build a second home in opponent’s backfields. With Buckner, Grover Stewart and Leonard (when he blitzes) commanding most of opposing offensive line’s attention, Paye could feast in single coverage.