Key & Diagnosis
There are a few things that I look for when trying to identify breakout fantasy players. Youth, talent and an increased role. Second year players with high draft capital usually experience an increase in playing time and production. These players have had a year to adjust to the NFL, and their teams feel more confident playing them in major roles. A player that fits this model is Indianapolis Colts Edge Rusher Kwity Paye.
Kwity Paye was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1st round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He played four seasons at the University of Michigan before being drafted. His collegiate production wasn’t overly impressive. Paye only recorded 11.5 sacks in his four seasons at Michigan. Most of that production came in his Junior season where he recorded 6.5 sacks. He only played in 4 games as a senior due to the Big Ten college football schedule being affected by the COVID19 pandemic. Even with his lackluster production, he still managed to win 2nd team All Big Ten honors in 2019 and 2020. He showed enough upside on film and during his Pro Day to be a 1st round pick and the second Edge Rusher taken in the Draft.
Paye walked right into a starting role from week 1 as a rookie. He was tasked with a major role after the Colts allowed veteran Defensive Linemen Justin Houston and Denico Autry to leave during free agency. Even with nothing in the way of opportunity, he largely struggled to make an impact in his rookie season. Paye only recorded 4 sacks on the season despite starting all 15 games that he was active. In fact, Paye didn’t record his first sack until week 10. It should be noted that he missed 2 games due to a hamstring injury which may have led to his slow start.
Paye placed fourth on the team in sacks behind DeForest Buckner, Al-Qudin Muhammad and Kemoko Turay. His struggles had ripple effects as the team only accounted for 33 total sacks on the season. The meager sack total left the team tied with the Jets for 25th in the league according to data from NFL.com.
During his end of season press conference, Colts GM Chris Ballard mentioned that the team must get better at rushing the passer and generating pressure. It’s notable that Paye appeared to have trouble generating pressure as a rookie. Paye only accounted for 5 QB hurries and 16 QB pressures across 639 snaps according to data from profootballreference.com.
For context, Paye’s 1st round peers from the 2021 Draft class were much better at generating pressure on the Quarterback:
Jaelen Phillips- 10 hurries and 26 pressures on 603 snaps
Odefe Oweh- 12 hurries and 27 pressures on 615 snaps
Azeez Ojulari- 14 hurries and 27 pressures on 780 snaps
Greg Rousseau- 14 hurries and 24 pressures on 531 snaps
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka- 17 hurries and 27 pressures on 560 snaps
Going into the Draft, Paye was viewed as a high upside prospect that needed further development at the next level. During the 2021 NFL Draft, Draft Expert Mel Kiper advised that “Paye isn’t consistent and needs to develop a secondary move. He needs to be coached up”. This aligns with what I’ve seen on film from him. He’s yet to develop an array of pass rushing moves to consistently win his matchup.
It is notable that the Colts don’t appear to be discouraged by his development. GM Chris Ballard advised the media that he’s excited about his upside and confident that Paye will develop into a star Defensive End. This is encouraging news for IDP managers invested in Paye. For one, he did show improvement towards the end of the season. It’s important to highlight that all 4 of his sacks came during the 2nd half of the season. Paye appears to be a player trending in the right direction and he’s a player that we should be paying attention to during the off-season.
Considering that Paye came into the league as a raw prospect with the physical abilities to be an elite player, he could be compared to Vikings Edge Rusher Danielle Hunter. Hunter had a similar profile coming into the league in 2015. Hunter has developed into a Pro Bowl player and an elite IDP Fantasy asset in his 7 seasons as a pro. It wouldn’t be surprising if Paye followed a similar trajectory considering his upside.
There’s even more encouraging news for the fantasy stock of Paye. The Colts are projected to have nearly $70 million in cap room during free agency. They’ll surely use some of that money to acquire a veteran Edge Rusher who can take some of the pressure off him. Free agency is deep with Edge Rusher depth this off-season. The Colts could add from a list of names such as Chandler Jones, Haason Reddick, Emmanuel Ogbah and Vonn Miller.
Paye could benefit from learning from one of these elite veterans. Let’s not forget that the Colts already have one of the best Interior Defensive Linemen in the game in DeForest Buckner. Buckner requires extra attention in his own right. The Colts are also very high on last year’s 2nd round pick Dayo Odeyingbo. With presumably better talent around Paye next season, he should have an easier time rushing the passer and reaching his ceiling. He has huge breakout potential next season. Don’t forget about Kwity Paye in your IDP Fantasy Football drafts.
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