The Indianapolis Colts acquired Yannick Ngakoue in a trade this offseason to boost the team’s pass rush. But it’s possible that the Colts will see more production from one of its other defensive linemen too.
At least that’s what Colts expert Andrew Moore of Sports Illustrated and NFL writer Nicholas McGee of The 33rd Team predict. Both Moore and McGee called Colts second-year defensive end Kwity Paye a breakout candidate for the 2022 season.
“Paye is coming off of a rookie season that saw him register all four of his sacks during the last half of the 2021 season,” Moore wrote. “The game began to slow down for the pass rusher, and he created more pressure on the quarterback. More of the same is expected in 2022.”
McGee had a similar assessment, citing his 15.1% pass-rush win rate according to Pro Football Focus. That was the third-highest percentage among rookie defenders.
“While the sack numbers may on the surface not be satisfactory for a player taken with such a premium pick, Paye did succeed in regularly generating pressure,” wrote McGee.
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Paye Building Upon His Strengths
While Paye didn’t dominate in the box score as a rookie, he showed why the Colts selected him at No. 21 overall in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. So, the evaluations of him from his pre-draft process a little more than a year ago still apply.
“Extremely sudden player with excellent change of direction,” football scout Cyril Penn of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers told The 33rd Team. “Fast hands, [has] the quickness to get skinny through gaps, and very good closing speed.”
Offensive line advisor Pat Flaherty of the New York Giants was also complimentary of Paye’s hands.
“Good get-off, his hand usage, good edge speed and very good quickness,” Flaherty told The 33rd Team. “Show him the hands and you extend too soon he’s going to swipe them. He’s a player that has tools in his toolbox to rush the passer.”
There are lots of players that arrive in the NFL and immediately become stars as rookies. But there are many other cases of players who need a full year of development before growing into a great NFL contributor.
Paye hopes to prove he’s part of the latter group, fulfilling his potential in 2022.
Playing on the same defensive line as Ngakoue and 2020 All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner should help. Paye will likely see lots of one-on-one blocking situations, where he will have the opportunity to shine.
New Colts Defensive System
Moore agrees that Paye will have the chance to be a breakout candidate because of the more one-on-one opportunities he will see. But Moore wrote Paye’s role under new Indianapolis defensive coordinator Gus Bradley could also lead to Paye having a bigger statistical season.
“In Matt Eberflus’s defense last year, Colts pass rushers were asked to read and play the run more,” Moore wrote. “In new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme, Paye can pin his ears back and focus on attacking the quarterback.”
In the new system, the Colts will need Paye to continue winning in pass rushing situations because Bradley rarely brings extra blitzers. Each of the last three seasons, Bradley-led defenses were last in the NFL in blitz percentage.
The arrival of Ngakoue and the new defensive system will give Paye the opportunity to breakout this season. That’s exactly what the Colts need for Bradley’s low-blitzing defense to work.