The Indianapolis Colts are, surprisingly, entering the 2021 NFL Draft with quite a few needs, despite their 11-5 finish in 2020. While offensive tackle, and maybe wide receiver, could make more sense in the first round, the defensive end position is the most glaring need in my eyes.
While the Colts had one of the better interior defensive line rotations in the league last year, the struggles off the edge were apparent in the biggest games of the season. With their top two pass rushers from last year currently not on the roster (Denico Autry signed with the Titans and Justin Houston remains a free agent), the Colts desperately need an impact defensive end in this class.
The current defensive end rotation for the Colts is one of the weakest in the league. The highlights of the group are three former second-round picks who have yet to really provide the impact that they were drafted to make in Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, and Ben Banogu. After that, it is a couple depth players who don’t add anything to the pass rush in Al-Quadin Muhammad and Isaac Rochell. Considering the weakness of the current group, the Colts have to add an impact edge rusher early in this draft.
While this class may not be top-heavy with edge pass rushers, Kwity Paye is the perfect player to fit what the Colts need. At 6’2 and 261 pounds, he has the frame to line up at either of the two distinct defensive end positions in the Colts’ 4-3 front. He also has the ability to replace the Denico Autry role in the defense, a role that had Autry line up at strong side defensive end and then kick inside to play three technique on passing downs.
From Brett Mock at Stampede Blue:
When veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired, he left what may very well be the biggest hole for general manager Chris Ballard to fill this offseason. Fortunately, the 2021 draft class has a deep offensive tackle class, which may give the Colts some flexibility with their first pick.
Given that this draft’s strength may be in the early mid-rounds, there is a chance Indianapolis will search for a trade partner to increase the number of selections available — which stands at only six.
If Ballard is not presented with a desirable trade-back option, snagging Kwity Paye would address the second-largest hole on the team’s roster. Veteran defensive end Denico Autry joined division rival Tennessee. As of this writing, veteran Justin Houston is still a free agent. This leaves the Colts with three young developmental players in Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis and Ben Banogu, along with rotational piece Al-Quadin Muhammad. Paye may not have a ton of college production to boast, but his athletic profile is strong and his comfort stunting inside fits what the Colts like to do on the defensive line.
Statistically, Paye isn’t an overly impressive prospect, as he only totaled 11.5 sacks in four years. To put those stats into context, Michigan asked him to eat space and be a run defender much more than what he would be asked to do in the NFL. When they let him loose and allowed him to explode off the edge, the results were often outstanding. A team like the Colts could better unleash him by allowing him to attack downhill from wide alignments than Michigan ever could in college.
On film, Paye is one of the more physically gifted players in this class. He tested as an elite athlete at his Pro Day and those movement skills translate to the field. He has excellent bend and burst off the edge, and enough power to hold up at the point of attack. His energy and hustle also stand out on film, as there are multiple examples of him running down screen plays or even run plays to the other side of the field. That mentality would fit in well with the Colts’ culture of “no loafing” in games or practice.
There are obviously some flaws in his game, and they are ultimately the reason why he would even be available with the 21st pick. He is still technically raw and allows offensive tackles to get inside his chest plate far too often.
While he has to refine his technique as a pass rusher, his traits and skill set are well worth developing. Adding Paye to this defensive end rotation would go a long way toward making this poor group, on paper, a real threat to the rest of the AFC.
Top prospects remaining:
- Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia
- Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
- Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
- Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
- Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU