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Michigan's Kwity Paye taken with No. 21 pick by Colts, checks off life goal

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye has found a new home after being drafted No. 21 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the NFL Draft, and now his mother can retire.

Paye was the second defensive lineman taken in the three-day draft that began Thursday night. His main goal has been to take care of his mother, Agnes, who fled with her family from the Liberian civil war and relocated them in 1999 to Rhode Island, where Paye was raised.

Kwity Paye

"That was my goal my whole life," Paye told reporters late Thursday. "Seeing how she worked her whole life, that made me work harder."

During a brief television interview after his selection, Paye announced his mother is "done working."

"She's retired," he said, his mother beside him looking overjoyed.

With Paye’s selection, Michigan has had first-round selections each of the last three years — Devin Bush and Rashan Gary in 2019 and Cesar Ruiz in 2020. Last year, Michigan had 10 players selected in the NFL Draft, one off the program record set in 2017 when 11 Wolverines were selected.

Michigan has 11 draft-eligible players available this year and based on numerous mock drafts, eight are expected to be selected. The second and third rounds are held Friday and Rounds 4-7 are Saturday.

More: Former Michigan star Kwity Paye to release NFT to benefit TUFF non-profit

Former right tackle Jalen Mayfield is projected to be drafted Friday in the second round, and receiver Nico Collins could be a third-round selection during Day 2 of the NFL Draft.

During pro day at Michigan last month, Paye (6-foot-2, 261 pounds) ran a hand-timed 4.52 40-yard dash. Because there was no NFL Combine this year, scouts and coaches relied on campus pro days. Paye also bench pressed 36 reps at 225 pounds.

An injury limited his production in an already reduced 2020 season, and Paye finished with 16 tackles and two sacks. He had 23½ tackles for loss and 11½ sacks during his career.

Paye told Colts beat writers he had spoken with the team three times before the draft. He said he intends to improve as a pass rusher.

“He’s really a freak of nature, just how big he is, how strong he is, how fast he is, a combination of all the things you would want in a D-end,” former Michigan linebacker Cam McGrone, a potential third-day draft pick, said last month referring to Paye.

Asked to describe his playing style to reporters Thursday night, Paye was succinct.

"Blue collar," he said. "Chasing the ball. Every time I get a chance to make a tackle, I'm going out there to do it."

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, earlier this month during a conference call, said Paye distinguished himself with his quickness in his first step.

“You’ve gotta get this guy up the field,” McShay said. “And the second thing that jumps out after the suddenness is his motor. There’s no Michigan player that played harder than Kwity Paye. He’s always chasing plays down from behind. He’s always giving max effort, and I love that about him.”

McShay questioned whether Paye was “used properly” in Michigan’s defense.

“I think he’s going to be a better pro than a college player,” he said. “His production was solid, it wasn’t elite. But developed properly and in the right system and turned up field all the time, he’s got a chance to be a really good pro, and I’m excited to see what he does at the next level.”

Before pro day, Paye shared a list of quotes he keeps in an old weathered wallet and has used for motivation since he began collecting them in sixth grade. Among the quotes: “Nothing worth having comes easy” and “Nothing will get in the way of me achieving my dreams.”

“Every day I’ll pull it out and read those quotes, and I’ll be like, ‘Man, I wrote this when I was in sixth grade and now I’m accomplishing everything that I wanted to accomplish,’” Paye said. “It’s unreal, but at the same time, I worked to get here. It feels good.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis