Colts’ GM Chris Ballard on Kwity Paye: ‘He’s going to fit in pretty quickly’

Indianapolis Colts

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 28: Sean Clifford #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions avoids the tackle of Kwity Paye #19 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – A difficult process (the NFL Draft is an inexact science, remember?) and important decision were reduced to something in the no-brainer category for Chris Ballard.

Sitting on the No. 21 rung Thursday evening, the Indianapolis Colts general manager mulled over a trade-back offer.

“It wasn’t enough to pass the player we were going to take,’’ Ballard said on a Zoom conference call. “It just wasn’t enough value for us to say ‘Let’s move and pass a player that we think very highly of, that fits our culture and fits what we want to do.’’’

So Ballard said, “No thanks.’’

He stood pat and invested the 21st overall pick in an athletically gifted pass rusher out of Michigan that checked virtually every applicable box.

Welcome to Indy, Kwity Paye.

“It was easy,’’ Ballard said. “It was really easy. Look, I’ve made some pretty easy picks where you just knew. You pulled the card and it was an easy pull, and pulling the card of Kwity Paye was very easy.”

“He stands for everything we want to stand for. He’s got an unbelievable story and just feel very fortunate tonight. Sometimes it goes your way and tonight we feel like it went our way.’’

From a football standpoint, Paye addresses one of the Colts’ glaring needs: edge pass rusher. Ballard will have to wait until Friday’s portion of the draft – rounds 2 and 3, starting at 7 p.m. – to perhaps find a suitable left tackle.

Paye was too enticing to pass up.

He’s a freakish 6’4″ 272-pounder who dazzled scouts at Michigan’s Pro Day: a 4.57 40, 35.5 vertical jump, 36 bench reps at 225 pounds. In 38 games for the Wolverines, he piled up 23.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, including two sacks and a team-best four tackles for loss during four starts last season.

There were a cluster of pass rushers Ballard and his staff coveted – Paye was the second defensive end off the board, preceded by Miami’s Jaelen Phillips, who went 18th overall to the Miami Dolphins – but Paye was considered an ideal “fit’’ for coordinator Matt Eberflus’ scheme.

“It was really easy,’’ Ballard reiterated. “You always look for guys who pop. Do they pop off the 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 already plays the way we want to play. He’s going to fit in pretty quickly.’’

His unique football skills aside, Ballard was struck by Paye’s character and backstory.

Yes, the Colts always are looking for talent and difference-makers. But they also place a premium on a prospect’s temperament. What makes a particular player special?

As the Colts were selecting Paye, an NFL Network video of what shaped him and brought him to this point went viral.

His mother, Agnes, twice escaped the devastating civil war in Liberia. When Paye was an infant, the family emigrated from Western Africa to an impoverished neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island. Agnes worked multiple jobs to pay the rent and enable Kwity to attend Bishop Hendricken H.S., a private school in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Kwity’s overriding goal growing up: ensure he could find a job that would enable him to take care of his mom.

He initially went to Michigan intent on earning a degree in law enforcement. He was a fan of “Criminal Minds’’ and thought a career with the FBI might be in his future.

“I took school real serious,’’ Paye said. “I wanted to make sure I made good grades so I could get a good job. After my junior year in college I started getting my name put on mock drafts. That’s when I realized that I could go to the next level.’’

Done. His rookie contract is a four-year (with a fifth-year option) deal worth $13.645 million with a $7.3 million signing bonus.

When the Colts called Thursday night, Paye was in Denver and surrounded by his mom and family. Mother and son shared a long, emotional hug.

“It means everything,’’ he said of reaching the NFL. “That was my goal my whole life growing up. Just seeing how hard she worked. That’s what made me work harder.”

“Being able to tell her that she’s done (working) means a lot.’’

Ballard admitted he got “teary-eyed’’ watching the video.

“His mother, what a tremendous lady and what she did for her kids and what they went through,’’ he said. “She deserves a lot of credit.’’

It was Paye’s background, coupled with his skills and intriguing upside, that convinced Ballard he was worthy of the 21st overall pick.

“Look, first he’s got to have good tape. That’s No. 1,’’ he said. “To get put on the board in the first round you’ve got to have really good tape. Then you’ve got to go through the rest of the process.”

“What his backstory tells you is this kid has some survivor skills and when it gets hard in this league, he’s going to be able to handle it. Players are going to fail. You’re going to have some bad moments and you’ve got to have something inside of you that allows you to push through it. I think Kwity has that.’’

Thursday night, Ballard stressed, was one of those occasions where everything fell into place.

“It’s easy to draft talent. That’s not hard to do,’’ he said. “But to draft talent with character, that’s difficult. That doesn’t always come together.”

“When you get one that’s got a unique skill set with character, that’s a beautiful thing.’’

Paye said he had several pre-draft meetings with the Colts and wasn’t surprised he’ll launch his NFL career in Indy. Even so, he’s not yet up to speed with Eberflus’ defensive scheme or personnel.

“Not that familiar,’’ Paye said, “but a big fan of DeForest Buckner and just excited to go work with him.’’

The Colts will need Paye to make an immediate impact on the defensive front. They re-signed Al-Quadin Muhammad, but Denico Autry signed with the Tennessee Titans and Justin Houston remains unsigned.

Paye described himself as a “blue collar” player who’s always “chasing the ball.”

His new teammates were quick to react to his addition to the roster.

“Congratulations champ,’’ Buckner tweeted. “Welcome to Indy. I can’t wait to race you to the QB these next couple of years. LETS GOOOO. #SackCityIndy.’’

And this from linebacker Darius Leonard: “Welcome my guy! Come ready to work and eager to learn man. Let’s go baby!!!!’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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