|Warwick, RI – 6'4" 235|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
|ESPN||4*, NR overall
#26 DE, #1 RI
|24/7||3*, #427 overall
#29 WDE, #1 RI
|Other Suitors||BC, ND, VT|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
Kwity Paye's sudden emergence on Michigan's recruiting board was met with a ton of skepticism initially, what with Michigan pursuing a large number of more-touted defensive linemen. The sudden flip of a who-dat from BC spurred consternation… until it became clear that Michigan's plan was to take everybody no matter what. Okay then. Let's go.
Paye remains under the radar but has a few arrows pointing up. One: like Josh Metellus before him, Paye found a sympathetic ranker at ESPN. ESPN's model has its ups and downs but they do give everyone an in-depth scout from a pro at some point in their recruitment. When they step out of line on a guy who is otherwise a generic three-star they have a good reason—one not related to camps.
Two: Paye is from Don Brown country. After a career spent largely in the little-scouted Northeast, you can make a case that Brown has the connections and evaluation chops to find and acquire true sleepers. The method of Paye's acquisition suggests that he was no backup plan like MA S Ifeatu Melifonwu, who Michigan flirted with at the end of the cycle. (Michigan apparently passed, and I still wish they hadn't.) Brown offered and got a commitment from him at BC. Paye flipped in late October, when Michigan had a ton of lines out. VT and ND were also sniffing around.
Three: Paye is a refugee, having fled Guinea with his family when he was six months old. Michigan has had a lot of success with refugees in the recent past. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson were both successes with zero off-field issues. Paye's quotes sound a lot like the stuff Chesson said during his recruitment that caused the "jehu chesson is 1000 years old" tag to spring into existence:
"From freshman year to varsity football, I knew I had to study the playbook, I knew I had to ask questions, I had to make sure that I watched film to understand other teams' playbooks. Mentally I just had to focus a lot more, just try to buckle down and understand everything that was going on around me."
He's got a better than average shot of hitting his ceiling.
That ceiling is fuzzy but potentially enticing. Paye skipped the camp scene entirely since he thought his recruitment was over the minute he committed to BC, so we don't have firm testing numbers. We do have a few hints that Paye's physical package belies his modest recruiting profile. He attended Notre Dame's camp, where he won the 40 for his position group. Here here's Don Brown yelling it at your face:
…unbelievable athlete. He plays tailback as well as defensive end. He could play up and down on defense, which is another sign of his athleticism. I have worked with him personally. He is an outstanding pass rusher, and his size potential is off the charts. I anticipate him being an open side defensive end.
ESPN focuses on his long term upside in their four-star eval:
Very good height with good bulk on a lean, wiry built frame. … Inconsistent, but displays above average first-step. … Demonstrates ability to take on blockers with pad level and when maintains good 'football position' can hold ground one-on-one … Good play speed and range to be factor in pursuit with effort. … Flashes ability to come off and transfer speed-to-power, but aspect of arsenal he needs to further develop. …needs to further develop use of his weapons … good physical tools though still a bit raw … intriguing upside. Could develop and fit well in a hybrid DE/OLB role.
BC's site scouted him after his commitment and noted similar things:
…outstanding closing speed … impressive 'next gear' once he's got an unobstructed path to the quarterback. … willingness to lay out to make a highlight-reel block in the open field, and the force with which he delivers blows on ball carriers -- those speak to an intensity and a self-motivation that can't be taught or learned. … athleticism is undeniable.
Adam Friedman was understandably circumspect about his competition level but echoes the above takes:
"It's really hard to put an accurate ranking on a guy like Kwity Paye … At a place like Michigan, with coaching from Don Brown, he could really blossom into a special player. … I like his potential a lot. … very physically talented and can really run for a big, built defensive lineman."
Scout ended up the most pessimistic site by some distance, and their scouting reflects it. Brian Dohn:
…good closing speed and he plays with high energy. …. needs to improve his explosiveness at the snap of the ball to put more pressure on the offensive tackle so he can use speed around the edge to go with his power and inside moves. His hands are active and he has good strength.
"Athleticism," "explosion," and "quickness off ball" were listed as areas for improvement. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the defensive end?
While that last take is an outlier the more excited ones are also based on trying to prize out useful information from Rhode Island high school football. In a recruitment this mysterious, Don Brown working this guy out in person and immediately wanting him at BC, then pursuing him again at Michigan is probably the best evidence he's a potential dude.
Paye got into the UA game via fan vote, failed to impress immediately, and was seemingly forgotten about by evaluators afterwards. The circumstances in which he failed to impress were a bit ridiculous, though:
Trey Smith moves inside to LG and dominates. pic.twitter.com/JL65QHCd55
— Paul Fortenberry (@P_Fortenberry_) December 28, 2016
Not only is this dude from Rhode Island going up against a composite five-star, he's playing DT at 230-ish. Rivals described this as "lining up slightly out of position," which… no. Once restored to his edge rush spot Paye started coming around. Later in the week he was winning most of his one on ones.
By the time the game rolled around he'd gotten the hang of things. He had a TFL, a couple QB hurries and generally looked like he belonged. Rivals's Mike Farrell tossed him a mention in his postgame awards as the "Lunch Pail" guy—basically the gent at the game nobody is really talking about who performed well. Paye described his trajectory himself:
"The first day I struggled a lot because it was my first time seeing any of the competition like that," he said. "I had to sit down and think about what I was doing wrong and then just make that adjustment. I started to do well over the course of practice and when the game time came I would say I performed pretty well the time that I was in. I disrupted a couple passes and got to the quarterback a bit."
Paye's performance, combined with a strong senior season, saw his rankings improve significantly. He went from around 1000th on the composite to around 500th. He's now just outside the range where I'd list him as a 3.5* recruit.
Paye told MLive's Matt Wenzel that he was up to 250 as of late May, which would seem to confirm Brown's exitement about his size potential. If he's truly that weight and truly 6'4" he will have no trouble getting up to an ideal WDE weight and could even have a backup plan at SDE. That is definitely a backup plan, though. Brown wants to see if he can turn raw clay into edge terror.
Etc.: is in fact the only Rhode Islander on the 24/7 composite.
Why Frank Clark? Clark was a high upside, sushi raw weakside end Michigan plucked out of obscurity. His recruiting profile is amongst the most bizarre in the genre: he was listed at 210 pounds by recruiting sites and evaluated as a TE, WR, LB, and DE. There was no senior film. Clark grew into a big-time WDE over the course of his career; he felt like a body in search of some instruction for most of his career before a senior-year breakout that led to a second round NFL draft selection.
Mario Ojemudia is another potential comparable. He was a 3/4 star tweener who played a radically undersized DT in high school and eventually developed into a solid DE/OLB hybird… sort of. Then-DC DJ Durkin abandoned the OLB portion of his duties after a rough go early; Ojemudia remained a steady contributor and zone-read defender until his Achilles blew out. Ojemudia always struggled with size, topping out around 250, so Clark is a better comparison.
Taco Charlton is another dude in this genre of raw WDE athlete, but he's 6'6" and exited high school a consensus four star due to crazy leaping feats. Paye is more of a shot in the dark than that.
Guru Reliability: Low. Understandably so: Rhode Island competition and a total lack of camps until UA, which was always going to be Paye being thrown into the deep end and unlikely to be particularly enlightening.
Variance: High-minus. Could curl up and die when playing guys his size or bigger; could be Frank Clark. Background helps.
Ceiling: High. Has an NFL frame and could be quick-twitch enough to draw early-round NFL interest by the time things are said and done.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Boom or bust prospect who shades towards success because of Don Brown.
Projection: Despite his rawness Paye has a decent shot to play this year. The WDE depth chart currently reads "Winovich/???" and those question marks will either be true freshman or Ron Johnson, who was last spotted trying to be a DT during spring practice. Recruiting rankings suggest that Luiji Vilain will be t he guy slotting in second but a third DE will play during garbage time and in case of injury; Paye could be that guy.
I'd rather he's not, because he's the exact sort of recruit you want to get that fifth year from—a high upside player who will take a lot of time to get there—and the most likely outcome is that he plays sparingly before getting shut down at midseason with a lingering injury. Small chance he beats out Vilain and is on the two deep all year.
Winovich is (probably) around for 2018 as well, leaving Paye to fight for the WDE job as (probably) a redshirt sophomore in 2019. Paye, Vilain, Corey Malone-Hatcher, Rueben Jones, Johnson and assorted freshmen will be in the running; if you asked me right now I'd guess Paye is in a group of closely-matched folks chasing Vilain and is likely to act as the Winovich to his Charlton.