INDIANAPOLIS — Throw on Kwity Paye's college film, and his talent alone screamed first-round pick. The Michigan product's speed, burst, tenacity and effort off the edge is a fit in any defensive scheme in the NFL.
But the Indianapolis Colts know talent is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to filling out their draft board from year to year. What's the prospect's story off the field? What is their football character? When the going gets tough — and every rookie has tough moments — how will they respond?
As it turned out, Paye checked those boxes perhaps better than any other prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
When the Colts made the decision to select the defensive end with their first-round (21st-overall) pick late Thursday night, they surfaced the undisputed feel-good story of the entire draft: a player in Paye whose mother, Agnes, escaped sure death in war-torn Liberia at 12 years old, gave birth to Kwity — who was named after his grandfather, who unfortunately wasn't able to escape those horrific conditions in Liberia — in New Guinea and then emigrated to the United States when he was just 6 months old.
The Paye family scrapped and clawed while on welfare in a rough neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island, as Agnes at times worked three jobs at a time to take care of Kwity and his older brother, Komotay Koffie.
Kwity overcame those challenges to flourish on the field once he hit high school, turning into the state's best player and earning a scholarship to Michigan, where he continued his ascent.
And on Thursday night, after getting that life-changing call from Colts general manager Chris Ballard, Paye turned around and was embraced by his family — and in particular by his mother, Agnes.
"She's done working," Kwity said of his mother just after being selected. "She's retired."
"(This) means everything," Kwity later told Indianapolis-area media members. "That was my goal my whole life growing up, just seeing how hard she worked. That's what made me work harder, so being able to tell her she's done means a lot."
That feeling of elation was mutual for the Colts, who jumped at the chance to turn in Paye's name when they went on the clock with the 21st-overall pick.
Paye's upbringing alone gives Ballard and his staff confidence that he can handle the transition into becoming a professional football player. And then there's his fit on the field.
"You always look for guys who pop," Ballard said. "Do they pop on tape when you're watching – all 22 of them; who pops off the tape? And Kwity pops off the tape — one, with his athleticism and his speed, but also with his effort. This kid, he already plays the way we want to play. He is going to fit in pretty quickly."
The 6-foot-4, 272-pound Paye also had the production to match at Michigan, where he appeared in 38 games with 20 starts and tallied 100 tackles (23.5 for a loss) with 11.5 sacks and one pass defensed, forced fumble and fumble recovery apiece. Voted a team captain by his teammates in 2020, Paye was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches in 2019 and the media in 2020.
Paye described his play style as "blue collar."
Yeah, that should fit just fine around Indianapolis, where Paye will get a chance to compete alongside a similarly-wired defender up front in All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
"(I'm) just (always) chasing the ball," he said. "Every time I get a chance to tackle I just go out there and do it."
Taking everything into consideration — the player on the field and the man off of it — Paye certainly seems like a slam-dunk first-round pick for the Colts.
Now it's time for him to get to work.
"It was a good feeling," Paye said when asked about how he felt when the Colts picked him on Thursday night. "Last night I was a little anxious, a little excited. But I woke up this morning and I was cool. Then going throughout the draft, I was just waiting for the call. I was blessed to be picked by the Colts."
The Colts selected Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye with their first pick (Round 1, 21st Overall) in the 2021 NFL Draft.